By Ray Hamill — The Panthers were mad after Friday’s championship extra-innings loss to Eureka.
They should be.
Defensive miscues cost them a chance at what would have been a first-ever Lakin tournament title and an historic Big 5 and league tourney double.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is they’re well aware of this, and appear determined to put it right.
“My guys were mad,” McKinleyville head coach Scott St. John admitted. “They didn’t like that. They weren’t happy about it. And they weren’t happy about (Eureka’s postgame) dog pile. Not because it was Eureka, but because it wasn’t them.”
The Panthers, however, know they can’t make the same mistakes going forward if they are to fulfill their ultimate goals.
“I didn’t think we played real well defensively,” St. John said. “We gave up four unearned runs and we made some mistakes, and you can’t do that against a Division-III team of that caliber.
“But again we fought back. It took them nine innings to beat us. It was typical of what we’ve done all year. We hung in there and fought back.”
The Panthers still have time to make up for it, and bigger goals and greater challenges lie ahead.
“It would have been a great thing to win, but in the great scheme of things it wasn’t that big a deal,” St. John said. “We want to win the NCS championship.”
On Saturday, as expected, the Panthers were given the top seed for the upcoming Division-IV NCS playoffs, a deserved recognition after a season that has seen them go 20-3 while winning the Big 5 title.
And the head coach felt it was something his players had earned.
“I felt we did,” he said. “I felt if you look at our body of work and who we’ve played, we did deserve it. We won a lot of road games early.”
The McKinleyville players will have some other added motivation going into the playoffs.
Last season they had the No. 2 seed and lost at home to St. Mary’s 6-0 after an opening-round bye.
This year’s team, however, has played far better than a year ago, losing less games heading into the NCS than any other Big 5 team in the past 15 years.
“I think we’ll learn from it,” St. John said of last season’s playoff loss.
The Panthers (20-3) will open NCS play at home to either No. 8 Redwood Christian or No. 9 Kelseyville next Saturday.