By Ray Hamill — One of the best rivalries in local high school basketball did not disappoint on Thursday night, as the McKinleyville Panthers got the better of the Arcata Tigers 67-58 in a thrilling Big 5 showdown at Mack High.
There was little to separate the two teams for much of the game, with several lead changes throughout and rarely more than a couple of points between them.
But the home team stepped up when it mattered most, pulling away with a clutch performance in the fourth quarter and nailing 15 of 16 free throws for the period.
“That was definitely a team effort,” McKinleyville head coach Cindy Semore Clancy said.
Trailing by a point with three minutes remaining, the Panthers went on a 12-0 run to pull out the victory, with Owen Hamm and Cody Whitmer instrumental in the late surge.
Jordan Brown also had a huge game defensively against Arcata standout Brandon Bento-Jackson, a battle that helped pave the way for the win.
“I want to give a shoutout to Jordan Brown,” Semore Clancy said. “He played some lockdown defense and the rest of our team did the little things that allowed him stay on Brandon.”
Hamm scored a team-high 19 points, while Whitmer finished with 11 points, including going 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Jack Clancy, who has been battling some injury concerns early in the season, also had a good night as he returns to full fitness and he nailed some big baskets on the way to 13 points.
“Jack is starting to come around,” the head coach said.
Wit the win, the Panthers take over sole possession of top spot in the Big 5, improving to 2-0 in conference and 10-4 overall.
“One thing that helped is our intensity level was up,” Semore Clancy said. “When you go to play Arcata, you play hard.
“It was definitely a team effort and I’m hoping they can carry that momentum into the next few games.”
Bento-Jackson finished with a team-high 14 points for the Tigers, who were playing without senior standout Kai Purcell and suffered just their third loss of the season.
Josiah Gomez also had a big night in the loss, finishing with 12 points, while Luke Moxon added 10 points and Shane Purcell nine.
Arcata dropped to 0-1 in the Big 5 and 13-3 overall.