By Ray Hamill — Two down, one to go.
The McKinleyville Panthers have been the best high school softball team on the North Coast all spring, and that continued to be the case on Friday when they defeated close rivals Eureka 11-7 to claim the Charles Lakin H-DNL tournament for the first time.
The tournament title comes exactly one year after the Mack girls lost to Eureka in the championship game, and one week after they sealed the program’s first Big 5 title in eight years.
An that means two of the team’s preseason goals have been taken care of, with one more still on the agenda, as they get set for next week’s North Coast Section playoffs and a tricky Division-IV field that includes an unbeaten Cloverdale team.
The Panthers, however, appear well up for the challenge.
“I think they’re trusting each more every game,” head coach Shanna McCracken said.
That trust was evident in Friday’s championship game.
After storming out to a quick 5-0 lead, keyed by an Olivia Alves solo home run, the Panthers saw the early momentum slip away when a dangerous Loggers offense caught fire with five runs of their own in the top of the third inning.
A veteran and senior heavy McKinleyville team didn’t get rattled, however, quickly re-taking the advantage with four more runs in the bottom half of the inning and holding the lead for the remainder of the game.
“They’ve done this time and time again,” McCracken said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is they’re not going to quit. They kept battling the whole way through.”
Alves, who was the unofficial player of the tournament, followed Thursday night’s three-hit performance with another inspiring effort on Friday, both at the plate and behind it.
The senior catcher gave her team the lead with a solo blast in the first inning, and it kickstarted a Mack offense that put up runs in each of the opening five innings.
Alves finished 2-for-3.
McKenzie Gonsalves and Ashley Ballew each also finished with a pair of hits in the win, including a double by the latter.
This was the fourth matchup between these two teams in just 10 days and was the highest scoring of what has been a high-scoring series.
“Eureka usually steps up and plays well against us, and they never stopped threatening,” McCracken said.
Jada Bailey also had a double and an RBI in the win, while Grace Rosebrook had a triple and two RBIs.
Lily Thiesfeld and Lexi White each also had a hit and two RBIs.
McKenzie Gonsalves got the win in the pitcher’s circle, but gave way to Mikayla Minton after getting into trouble in the third.
Minton was solid in relief.
For Eureka, the loss was just the sixth all year, three of them coming against the Panthers.
“Our girls always keep it entertaining,” Eureka co-head coach Katelyn Graeser said.
The Loggers had plenty of offense, led by Sadie Wilkinson who finished 3-for-5 with a double, while Salina Socha-Wright also had a big game, going 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
The ever-dangerous Karyn Jensen and Raime Young each also had two hits, with Jensen also driving home three runs.
Alex Morehouse pitched a complete game, allowing 10 hits in the loss.
Both teams will now turn their attention toward the NCS playoffs, which get under way next week, and each will find out their seed and opponents on Saturday.
The Loggers (19-6) will play in the Division-III bracket and will be hoping for a top-four seed.
The Panthers (20-3) will be in the Division-IV bracket and are expected to be seeded No. 2 behind Cloverdale (23-0).