By Ray Hamill — Friday was a day the Big 5 won’t easily forget.
Three thrilling games. Three dramatic wins. And three teams marching on to the North Coast Section championship game.
In baseball, both McKinleyille and Arcata put together almost identical finishes, each rallying late to win on walk-offs and setting up a mouthwatering clash next Wednesday between the two arch rivals for the Division-IV championship.
The Panthers trailed for much of their game at home to Fort Bragg, but scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to pull out a dramatic 2-1 win, with Chase Fisher scoring the winning run on a Corbin Eichin sacrifice fly, moments after an Isaac Puzz RBI single had tied the game.
Not to be out-done, the Tigers also won on a walk-off, with Mason Trapkus driving in the winning run on a sacrifice fly to score Xavier Finegan for a 5-4 win over St. Patrick-St. Vincent at the Arcata Ball Park.
The Tigers had rallied from a 3-1 deficit, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth to give them a 4-3 lead, before the visitors tied the game again in the top of the seventh.
“It was a thrilling finish,” Arcata head coach Troy Ghisetti said.
The McKinleyvillle girls also won on a thrilling finish in their Division-IV semifinal against Cardinal Newman at Mack High.
Center fielder Jada Bailey made one of the defensive catches of the season to end the game in the top of the seventh, while preventing the tying run from scoring.
The Panthers won 3-1 and will play for their first NCS championship since 1988 on Tuesday.
The three finalists join three other H-DNL teams to qualify for an NCS decider this year, with both South Fork teams and the Hoopa softball team all playing for an NCS crown on Saturday.
That’s six of the 18 H-DNL teams who have qualified for an NCS championship game this season, capping a remarkable spring on the North Coast.