Why Sears is the Pitcher of the Year, and other awards


Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Arcata pitcher Merek Sears was the best of the best on the North Coast this spring.

By Ray Hamill — Get ready 2020, you’ve got a lot to live up to.

Because in terms of success for local high school baseball and softball, there never has been a year quite like 2019.

A thrilling ride came to an end at the Arcata Ball Park on Wednesday night, when McKinleyville and Arcata battled it out for the North Coast Section Division-IV baseball championship, in what was a fitting way to cap a memorable season that saw four of the nine H-DNL high schools win a section title.

That’s impressive territory for the league, and a timely reminder for the rest of the section of the quality of competition up here.

The Tigers won Wednesday’s all-Big 5 showdown in large part thanks to the pitching of Merek Sears, who is for my money the best high school pitcher on the North Coast in a league that was loaded with brilliant pitching this year.

Earlier this spring, we published a story asking who is the best pitcher in the H-DNL, and now we have our answer.

In truth, there were at least six truly elite pitchers and several others in the mix as well, making the choice for pitcher of the year a difficult one.

St. Bernard’s Caleb Ruiz was arguably more dominant than Sears at times this spring, but not as consistent, while South Fork’s C.J. Van Meter and Eureka’s David Vagle were as every bit as consistent but maybe not quite as dominant at times.

In short, Sears barely threw a bad pitch, let alone have a poor outing, and he finished up with a record of 9-2 with 107 strikeouts.

“He was a bulldog for us,” Arcata head coach Troy Ghisetti said of his junior star, who saved his best for the big occasions.

For my money, Van Meter was the second best pitcher on the North Coast this spring, based on what I saw and the constant feedback from coaches all season long.

In addition to Vagle and Ruiz, Ferndale’s Landon Gomes and McKinleyville’s Cameron Saso each also pitched at an elite level most of the season.

Arcata’s Jaden Gorge, Eureka’s Brady Munson, Kalebh Hill and Hayden Bode, Ferndale’s Austin Hughes and McKinleyville’s Lance Lally all had big seasons for their respective teams as well.

A special mention also for sophomore Corbin Eichin, who was outstanding in relief for Mack on Wednesday night and has developed into a big-game performer for the Panthers, who will have both him and Saso back next year, which makes them the early favorites for 2020.

Other notable award winners for 2019 …



Player of the Year

Cameron Saso

McKinleyville, Junior

Simply put, Saso was the MVP on the best team in 2019, and was pivotal in helping the Panthers to a Big 5 championship.

On the mound, he was 8-1 in 12 appearances with an ERA of 1.17, while also batting .400 and scoring a team-high 29 runs.


Team of the Year


They may not have won the NCS title this week, but from start to finish the Panthers were the most consistent and dangerous team on the North Coast, taking two of three games from both Arcata and Eureka in league play.

They also played with a resiliency few teams display, and, most important of all, they were fun to watch.


Coach of the Year

Troy Ghisetti


One of the most experienced coaches on the North Coast, Ghisetti always seems to get the best out of his teams, which are always fundamentally prepared and peaking at the business end of the year.

His second NCS pennant in four years is well deserved after more than two decades in the dugout.



Player of the Year

Olivia Alves

McKinleyville, Senior

On a veteran roster of many heroes, the senior catcher stands out the best player on the best team on the North Coast this year.

Alves was a leader on both sides of the plate and played with a toughness you expect from a championship-winning catcher.


Pitcher of the Year

McKenzie Gonsalves

McKinleyville, Senior

This award might not be quite so clearcut a year from now with several younger players coming into their own this spring, but there’s no denying Gonsalves is a worthy choice for 2019.

The senior provided the foundation in the circle for her teammates to thrive around her, and she delivered big time on the big occasions, allowing just two unearned runs in three NCS games.

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Coach of the Year

Teresa Stavert


The Arcata girls were one of the stories of the spring, turning the corner on years of struggles and quickly establishing themselves as a team to be reckoned with going forward.

Stavert and her staff deserve a ton of credit for the immediate impact they had on so many players on this roster.


Team of the Year


Is there really any doubt?

The Panthers will go down in history as the first team to ever win the treble of a Big 5, H-DNL tournament and NCS championship in one year, completing a remarkable campaign with an 11-1 win over St. Patrick-St. Vincent in the NCS Division-IV decider on Tuesday.

And yes, they were fun to watch as well.

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