By Ray Hamill — The Big 5 gets under way in softball on Wednesday afternoon and the heavily favored Eureka girls are not taking any of their rivals lightly.
The Loggers are off to a 7-0 start and have dominated their opponents so far, giving up just three runs all season and posting five straight shutouts.
But new head coach Robin Johnson and her players are taking it one inning at a time as they get set to open the Big 5 with a three-game series against McKinleyville this week.
“I think anyone can take any game from us,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to focus on trying to win each inning of each game.”
The rest of the Big 5 is pretty solid.
Shortstop Josephine Heuberger and pitcher McKenna Curtis are expected to lead the way for a dangerous Del Norte team, while new head coach Steve Sarchett has a very young Arcata team playing competitively behind standout pitcher Morgan Ford and the big bat of Sagen Sarchett.
The McKinleyville girls, meanwhile, always come ready to play under head coach Shanna McCracken, and the Panthers have plenty of depth with two experienced seniors in the pitcher’s circle — Raina Ausburn and Allie Egbert — as well as several big bats, led by Trinity Preston and Camryn Pinard.
The Fortuna Huskies could present the biggest challenge for the Loggers, with juniors Libby Johnston and Kylee Fennell both outstanding through the early season and leading the way on a team that has won nine of its 10 games.
Still, it is difficult to see any of them edging the Loggers for the league title the way the Eureka girls are playing right now.
Most notably, senior McKenna Beach and junior Kira Morris are playing at an MVP level.
Morris has been almost unhittable in the circle and has struck out a remarkable 73 of the 119 batters she has faced in 38 innings. She also has three no-hitters in her six starts — including two at the Crusader Classic this past weekend — while allowing just four base hits and five walks.
“She’s doing great,” head coach Robin Johnson said. “She almost had two perfect games over the weekend.”
There is little to fault with the way the junior standout has begun the new season.
“She’s getting first-pitch strikes, and she’s not throwing a lot of balls. She’s not walking a lot of girls,” the coach said.
Beach also has been a force on both sides of the plate, and already has hit two home runs, a triple and a pair of doubles in just six games.
Junior shortstop Maeghan Hampton also has impressed, both defensively and as the team’s lead-off hitter, as has No. 2 hitter Payton Goodman.
“I think everything is kind of coming together for us,” Johnson said. “The pitching is going good, the hitting is going good, and defensively we’re playing well. The girls are working well together.”
The Loggers and Panthers (5-1) open with a single game at Washington Elementary on Wednesday at 4 p.m., before playing a doubleheader at Mack High on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The Del Norte girls, who are 7-3, will open at Fortuna on Wednesday at 4 p.m., before hosting the Huskies in a doubleheader on Saturday, also at 11 a.m.
The Arcata Tigers (2-2) have a bye this week and will open at home to Fortuna next Wednesday.