By Ray Hamill — The Panthers were in no mood for sharing on Saturday.
And the Loggers weren’t going down without a fight.
And that made for an entertaining day of softball in front a large crowd at Eureka High eager to see the league title decided one way or the other.
McKinleyville came into the final day of the regular season having already clinched a share of the Big 5 and needed just one win to take it outright, while the home team needed a doubleheader sweep to share the crown.
The Loggers made it interesting by taking the opener 8-5, but the Mack girls would not be denied and responded in a manner befitting of champions, winning game two comfortably 10-1.
“I believe in this team,” McKinleyville head coach Shanna McCracken said. “They have a lot of fight. I never had any doubt they would fight back.”
That fight came from throughout the entire lineup, with eight different players getting a hit in the win, and 10 different players connecting at the plate over the two games.
Big fifth inning
The Panthers blew open a tight second game with six runs in the top of the fifth, and added four more in the seventh to make sure there was no way back for the Loggers.
Mikayla Minton pitched the win, allowing five hits and one walk, and holding the Loggers to just one run, a Karyn Jensen solo home run.
Minton took over from senior starter McKenzie Gonsalves midway through the first game and had a strong day in the circle.
“Props to Mikayla,” McCracken said. “She’s going to give her best every time, and she did very very well today. She’s become quite the competitor.”
At the plate, Gonsalves, Olivia Alves, and Ashley Ballew each finished with a pair of hits in the win, including a double by Gonsalves, as the Panthers offense racked up 11 hits.
“Hitting wise, our offense was everybody,” the Mack head coach said.
Ballew drove in three runs, while Allison McCarthy had a double.
For Eureka, Jensen’s home run in the bottom of the sixth inning was her fifth of a very productive season.
Jensen was one of five seniors honored on senior day, along with Makayla Napoleon, Brianna Graham, Raime Young and Sadie Wilkinson.
Afterwards co-head coach Katelyn Graeser praised the group.
“This was our first freshman class when (co-head coach) Sarah Fox and I were brought on as coaches, and they’ve grown and established an expectation of excellence,” she said. “They’re just really a great example of what we want our program to be.”
Napoleon also had a big day, hitting a home run in the opener, her first of the season.
Jensen, who is arguably the most dangerous hitter in the Big 5, was 3-for-4 in the opener with a double and two RBIs, while Sadie Hampton was 2-for-3.
Alexa Morehouse pitched the win allowing six hits and two walks, while striking out four.
“Eureka, I’ve got to hand it to them,” McCracken said. “That first game today was probably the best game I’ve seen them play in a while.
“And our girls needed that. They need to remember they’re not invincible.”
Jada Bailey had a big game for McKinleyville, finishing 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Jaycee Morais had a double.
The loss was the first for the Panthers in league play and just their third all season.
Not done yet
Afterwards, McCracken stressed that this is just one step along the journey this season for her team, which closed out league play 11-1 and is 18-3 overall.
“We’re not done,” she said. “We have a lot more work to do.”
The Panthers are currently the second highest ranked Division-IV team in the North Coast Section.
Eureka, which closes out the Big 5 at 9-3 and is 17-5 overall, will open the Charles Lakin H-DNL Tournament on Tuesday against South Fork at 7 p.m. at the Arcata Sports Complex.
McKinleyville, which is the top seed from the Big 5 for the tournament, will have an opening-round bye and will play the winner of the Arcata/St. Bernard’s game on Thursday at 5 p.m.