By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville Panthers are on a mission this season, and so far that’s been bad news for everyone in their way.
On Saturday, the Mack girls completed the league sweep of rivals Arcata by winning both ends of a doubleheader at McKinleyville High, improving to 7-0 in the Big 5 and 12-0 on the season.
The Panthers continued to showcase just why they are the best team on the North Coast this spring, although they found themselves in the unusual position of trailing in game one before pulling out a comfortable 8-3 win.
They followed that with a 5-1 win in the nightcap.
“To be honest, when we started off, I was a little bit worried,” McKinleyville head coach Shanna McCracken said. “They were a little intense, and you could tell they weren’t themselves. And it was good to see them get out of that.”
The Tigers, who came into this week’s series riding an eight-game winning streak, took a one-run lead in the top of the first inning of the opener, but it was short-lived.
The Panthers answered in the bottom of the second inning, scoring three runs to take the lead and adding four more over the following two innings to lead 7-1.
Game two was a close affair.
The Panthers struck first, opening up a two-run advantage in the bottom of the first inning.
After that, however, Arcata looked the more dangerous team until the Panthers scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to pull away.
“I thought we played five innings of very high caliber softball in that second game,” Arcata head coach Teresa Stavert said. “Every day we’re getting better, and every day when we make a mistake we fix it. We’re learning.”
The Tigers (3-3 in league and 9-4 overall) have been one of the stories of the season so far, and already have more wins than in any season since 2008.
The Panthers, however, have been even more impressive.
A pair of early walks and some sloppy defense led to their opening run, before McKenna Turner drove home Olivia Alves on a well-hit two-out double to left field for a 2-0 advantage.
After that, the Tigers settled down, with junior pitcher Makayla Bernald and her defense allowing just one hit over the following three innings and retiring the Panthers in order in the third and fourth innings.
The Tigers caused some problems themselves at the plate, with a lead-off single by Maria Morehouse in the top of the third leading to their only run, when she scored moments later on a passed ball.
But they left runners stranded in scoring position in each of the third and fourth innings.
Another win for Gonsalves
McKenzie Gonsalves pitched both wins for the Panthers, allowing five hits in each game, while striking out five in each.
Gonsalves has pitched all seven of McKinleyville’s league wins.
The Panthers stretched their lead in the nightcap in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Grace Rosebrook led off with a walk and was immediately driven home on a Lexi White double.
White had a big day at the plate, finishing with five base hits over the two games, including three doubles.
Alves and Gonsalves each also had a hit in the second game.
In the opener, Alves finished 3-for-3, while Turner was 2-for-3.
Ashley Ballew, Jada Bailey, Lily Thiesfeld and Rosebrook each also had a hit.
Turner, Ballew and Bailey each doubled.
For Arcata, Claire Broadman had two hits in the opener, including a double, while Kori McCracken, Carmen Midtun and Morehouse each had a hit, with McCracken doubling.
In the second game, Broadman added a second double, while McCracken, Midtun, Bella Volz-Broughton and Mekaynea Solia each added a hit.
Solia and her sister Muluvey Solia each struck the ball well in pinch hitting situations for the Tigers.
“They just ripped it,” Stavert said of the sisters.
The win was also a good one for the Panthers with an eye toward North Coast Section seeding, coming against another strong Division-IV team.
McKinleyville came into the game ranked No. 2 in Division-IV by MaxPreps, with Arcata one spot back.
Salesian is No. 1.
Arcata is scheduled to play at Del Norte on Tuesday, while McKinleyville is scheduled to host Fortuna in a doubleheader on Monday.