By Ray Hamill — Wow! What an opening few days in the Big 5 and Little 4.
While COVID has played havoc with just about every H-DNL roster this week, it hasn’t been able to dampen the excitement.
On Thursday night, we saw two stunning games that have thrown both boys’ conference races wide open.
In the Big 5, the McKinleyville Panthers knocked off an Arcata team that was ranked 42 spots ahead of them in the North Coast Section, while in the Little 4 the Hoopa Warriors stunned St. Bernard’s 59-52.
Eureka also won in the Big 5 on Thursday night, defeating Fortuna 54-40.
The South Fork and Ferndale boys did not play on Thursday and will open league play on Friday night.
Here are four talking points from a wild Thursday night …
1 — League races thrown wide open
It might be only one loss, but league favorites Arcata and St. Bernard’s can ill-afford another slip up if they want to claim a league title.
Each Little 4 team only plays six games and the Crusaders may have to win five straight now if they are to take the title, although there’s every reason to believe they can.
The final score at Hoopa will also give hope to a South Fork team that believes it can challenge for a league crown and a Hoopa team that appears to have suddenly found its mojo.
In the Big 5, meanwhile, the 2-0 Panthers could be the new favorites.
Arcata is by far the highest ranked H-DNL team in the section (No. 14 overall earlier this week) and the Tigers could yet go 7-0 the rest of the way in conference.
But the Panthers (No. 56 in the section this week) keep finding ways to win under new head coach Cindy Semore Clancy and the Del Norte Warriors are also poised to make a run for the pennant — both teams are playing outstanding defense — while Eureka has quietly won five of its last seven games and is right in the mix as well.
It should be a fun few weeks in the H-DNL.
2 — COVID changes everything
The SB boys, who came into Thursday’s game as the No. 3 Division-6 team in California, were playing without Owen Shanahan and Drew Vizenor, two of the frontrunners for this season’s Little 4 MVP, while Arcata was playing without Big 5 MVP candidate Kai Purcell.
If those players had played, it’s likely both games would have ended differently.
But that’s the norm these days, thanks in large part to COVID protocols, overplayed or not.
The Eureka girls are missing six players this week, while the Eureka boys were missing seven.
Both Fortuna boys and girls teams are missing players as well, while Del Norte, Arcata, McKinleyville and St. Bernard’s have all seen games postponed.
In short, just about every team has been affected by COVID protocols this week alone.
So on any given night any game can go against the expected, depending on who’s available to play.
Here’s hoping this will change in the coming weeks as we head to the business end of the season, because these games right now will affect a team’s playoff positioning and ranking.
3 — We’re going to really miss the fans
Whatever you may think of the decision to not allow spectators at games for the next two weeks, it’s hugely disappointing and they will be sorely missed.
The atmosphere at Mack High on Thursday night was electrifying, with students from both schools in full voice and adding to the occasion.
I hear it was the same over at Hoopa and I’m sure it was the same down at Fortuna.
Playing the games in front of no fans is just not the same and we need them back in the gym as soon as possible.
4 — The best rivalry in H-DNL
Is there a better rivalry in H-DNL sports than McKinleyville and Arcata in basketball?
Honestly I doubt it, and this is a matchup that continues to serve up highly-entertaining games almost every time these two programs face off because both teams always seem to pick up the intensity level when they play each other.
“When you go to play Arcata, you play hard,” McKinleyville head coach Cindy Semore Clancy said.
That was the case once again on Thursday.