By Ray Hamill — When it comes to baseball McKinleyville is clearly doing something right, and it’s safe to say no local town is enjoying the sport this year as much as Mack Town.
From high school to the Crabs to local Little League, nowhere has had a bigger impact on North Coast baseball in 2019 than McKinleyville, and it’s not done yet.
This weekend, McKinleyville has two all-star teams competing for a Little League state championship, after both the 9-10s and 11-year-olds won their respective Section Two titles earlier this week, remarkably the second straight year McKinleyville Little League has advanced two of its three teams this far.
Not only did both teams win back-to-back District tournaments, but they have proven to be the best well beyond Humboldt County as well, with back-to-back Section titles for each.
“We’re really proud of our McKinleyville program,” said 9-10s manager and long-time McKinleyville Little League coach Carlos Avelar. “To have two teams in two different ages both advance to state for two straight years, we feel really confident with our program.
“It’s hard to repeat as District champions, but to also repeat as Section champions …”
The success on the diamond is nothing new for Mack Town in 2019.
This past spring, the high school baseball team won a first league title in over a decade under the direction of head coach Scott St. John and his staff, on the way to advancing to the North Coast Section Division-IV championship game.
This summer, two of the Panthers’ star players, Cameron Saso and Dustin Ireland, have played a major role in the Humboldt Eagles’ drive for an American Legion 19U state championship, while former Panthers like Jacob Smith and Dylan Campbell have enjoyed stellar campaigns with the Humboldt B52s and Humboldt Crabs, respectively.
Campbell, in particular, has been performing at a very high level for the Crabs, where he has developed into a shutdown option for them out of the bullpen.
Earlier this week, he helped the Crabs to a hard-fought win over the Eagles, facing off against fellow Mack players Saso and Ireland, in a moment that every Panthers fan must have relished.
The next golden generation
McKinleyville’s next Campbells, Sasos and Irelands will be in action at their respective Little League state tournaments this weekend, with the 9 and 10s traveling to Rocklin and the 11s heading to San Jose.
And you can be sure there’s a future Crabs player or two among this future golden generation for McKinleyville High.
Perhaps Patrick Wilson, the 11-year-olds’ ace who has set the tone for his team on the hill this summer, or maybe the younger Joe Tanno, who has been every bit as effective for the 9-10 all-stars.
Both teams will match up against six other section winners in the race for a state championship, and both will rely on their pitching depth.
For the 9 and 10s, Tanno will get the start on the hill for the opener, with Bode Reininger behind the plate.
It’s a battery that has worked well for McKinleyville this summer.
Hunter Carper will start at first base, with shortstop Rhythm Green, second baseman Jake Brunner and third baseman Lincoln Hungerford rounding out the infield.
Gunnar Coleman, Tate Saso and Lucas Jones will play outfield, with Cody Wilson providing depth in the outfield and Bowdy Hicks in the infield.
Avery Saunders, who is coming off a big performance in Wednesday’s Section Two clincher, is another pitcher the Mack all-stars will rely on this weekend, and was impressive in both the District and Section championship games.
“We’ve got strong pitching,” said Avelar, who coaches the team along with Quentin Carper and Kirby Reininger. “And our defense doesn’t make too many errors, and we’ve got a couple of kids that can hit the ball really hard. We don’t strike out much.”
Plenty of experience
The 11-year-olds, meanwhile, have plenty of experience, with nine of the 12 players qualifying for the state tournament a year ago as 9 and 10s.
Like the younger Mack all-stars, they also have plenty of pitching depth, with Wilson scheduled to start on the mound for Saturday’s opener.
Isaiah Wolfe and Braden Pinard will both see time behind the plate at the tournament, and both bring some leadership to the team.
Pinard, who also hits lead-off and hit his first career home run at the Section tournament, is one of the team’s most versatile players and plays a number of positions well.
James Fike, Brian Richards, Blake Santos, Teddy Yarbrough and Ray Turner will all play infield, with Michael Manzi, Doc Price, Henry Turner and Quinn McSorley all playing in the outfield, along with Pinard.
In addition to Wilson, head coach Brandon Fike and assistants Wayne Wilson and Ted Yarbrough have plenty of quality pitching they can call on, including Manzi, Santos, Richards and Yarbrough.
“Again we have depth in pitching, and they’ve got some power,” Avelar said of the 11-year-old team. “And they have experience from last year.”
Last season, the Mack players lost two straight games at the tournament, including an elimination loss to Oakdale in a game in which they had led 10-3.
Avelar believes that experience will benefit his players this season.
“Most of those players are back,” he said. “They’ve been there, and they’re hungry.”