By Ray Hamill — Here we go again.
Only this time there’s a little more at stake, a little more pride on the line, and a little piece of history up for grabs.
On Wednesday night, the Arcata Tigers and McKinleyville Panthers will face off for the North Coast Section Division-IV championship, the fifth meeting of the season between two teams who probably know each other as well as any in the entire section.
And that means there should be few surprises.
“We’ve played them four times, so there’s definitely a familiarity factor there,” McKinleyville head coach Scott St. John said. “We’ve just got to keep playing our game. That’s solid defense, good pitching and timely hits.”
It will be a fitting matchup to end the season.
These two rivals are the top two seeds in Division IV, have been the top-two ranked teams in Division IV by MaxPreps all year, and between them have lost to just two other schools in 2019 (Eureka and Red Bluff).
It shows not only that the NCS seedings committee got it right, but is also a statement for the Big 5 and the H-DNL.
“It shows that these teams have done a nice job of going out and competing,” Arcata head coach Troy Ghisetti said. “For us to get the one and the two seed is excellent. It shows we have a lot of players who can compete at a high level.”
And if recent matchups between these two clubs is anything to go by, the season finale at the Arcata Ball Park should be a good one.
Arcata won the season opener 13-1, but the three Mack wins since then have all gone down to the wire, two of them decided in extra innings.
Both teams have also shown plenty of character and self-belief, with each getting to the championship game after rallying for a walk-off win in their respective semifinals on Friday night.
And each will have their junior aces on the mound, with Cameron Saso getting the start for the No. 1 seeded Panthers and Merick Sears taking the hill for the Tigers.
“Merick Sears is a great pitcher,” St. John said of the Arcata lefty, who arguably has been the most consistent of a very talented group of H-DNL pitchers this spring. “We’ve faced him three times already, so we know what he throws.
“We’ve just got to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they come up.”
Saso has been every bit as effective for the Panthers, and is 8-0 on the year with an ERA of 1.17.
He is, however, just one of several weapons a resilient Panthers team has at its disposal.
“They’re going to come in and swing the bat and they’ve done a nice job of that all year,” Ghisetti said. “Their seniors are doing a good job leading the team. They’ve been playing together a long time, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.
“We’re going to have to be able to match their intensity and swing the bat.”
Both teams also feature experienced coaching staffs.
“What makes them dangerous? Their coach for one,” St. John said of Ghisetti. “He’s been there, he’s got the experience. You know they’re going to be fundamentally sound every time you play them.”
St. John has his team playing with a lot of belief this year and has managed to get the better of Ghisetti in the past three games between the two.
Two of those three were decided by a single run and the other was scoreless after seven innings, so there has been very little to separate these teams.
“We’ve jut got to put a solid seven innings together,” Ghisetti said.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.