By Ray Hamill — T-Ryan Stumph scored one of the most important runs in recent McKinleyville High School baseball history on Wednesday afternoon, to give the Panthers a 6-5 walk-off win over Eureka at McKinleyville.
Stumph singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning, before advancing to third on a Cameron Saso bunt and an error, and scoring moments later on a passed ball.
The walk-off win lifts the Panthers to 9-1 in the Big 5, and leaves them needing just one win from their final two games at Eureka on Saturday to clinch the school’s first outright league title in the sport since 1996.
The game was an entertaining back-and-forth affair played in windy conditions, which allowed the ball to carry and made life tough on the outfielders.
McKinleyville’s Regan Wolfe provided one of the offensive highlights of the day with a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the fourth to pull his team back within one run of the visitors.
The blast gave the Panthers some momentum, and in the following inning Dustin Ireland put them ahead 5-4 on a bases-clearing double, also to left field.
“We got some big timely hits today when we needed them,” McKinleyville head coach Scott St. John said.
It wasn’t just the Panthers who provided the offensive highlights.
Eureka sophomore Keenan Morris came up with a big two-out RBI double to tie the game at 5-5 in the top of the sixth, connecting on a 3-2 pitch.
Teammate Hayden Bode, who finished 2-for-3, had a big RBI double to make it 3-0 Eureka in the top of the fourth.
“The wind was rough out there,” St. John said. “Our outfielders had a hard time, but hat’s off to (Eureka), they put the ball in play.”
Both teams started their aces on the mound — Saso of McKinleyville and Eureka’s David Vagle — hoping to take the early advantage in a three-game title-deciding series.
The two programs came into the game tied in the league standings with identical 8-1 records, and will close out the regular season at Eureka on Saturday.
The Loggers can still claim the league crown, which would be their third straight, with a sweep on Saturday.
“We just didn’t quite have enough,” Eureka head coach Eric Giacone said after Wednesday’s loss. “We’ll get two good days of practice and tighten up some things that need to be fixed.”
For a McKinleyville team that improved to 18-1 on the season, it was another clutch win.
“We hung in there,” St. John said. “We got down, but we hang in there. We don’t push the panic button, and when you hang in there, things happen.”
Vagle pitched six solid innings for Eureka, giving up five runs on seven hits, before Bode took over in relief, allowing one run on two hits and taking the loss.
Saso also pitched six innings, allowing nine hits and five runs, before giving way to Lally, who got three quick outs in the top of the seventh for the win.
Lally also came within inches of hitting a home run in the sixth, but had to settle for a double.
Morris and Isaak Gutierrez each also finished with two hits for the Loggers, who lost their second straight and are now 12-5 overall.
Tyce Mullins added a double, while Jackson Giacone, Brady Munson and Vagle each had a hit.
For Mack, Saso also made his presence felt at the plate, finishing 2-for-4, while Ireland was 2-for-3.
Corbin Eichin and Chase Fisher each also had a hit for the Panthers, who improved to 18-1 on the season.
Saturday’s doubleheader gets under way at 1 p.m., two hours later than usual because of SATs.
The Panthers last won the Big 5 title back in 2007 when they shared the championship with Eureka and Arcata.