By Ray Hamill — Bailee Box hit a clutch RBI single to drive in the winning run in extra innings on Friday evening, as the McKinleyville Panthers ended the Eureka Loggers’ three-year unbeaten run in softball.
After dropping the first two games of their league-opening series this week, the Panthers won game three in dramatic fashion, with Box driving in teammate Kennedy Minton for an 8-7 walk-off win on what was the biggest base hit of the freshman’s young career.
The walk-off hit capped a big rally that saw the Mack girls battle back from a five-run deficit midway through the fifth inning.
Earlier in the day, the Loggers won a high-scoring showdown 18-9 to stretch their unbeaten start to the season to nine straight games and secure the series win against a Mack team that could be their biggest challengers for the Big 5 title.
The Loggers also took Wednesday’s series opener 5-1.
The last team to beat Eureka here on the North Coast was McKinleyville in the championship game of the 2019 Charlie Lakin tournament.
The Loggers had won 25 straight games, including going 2-0 in 2020 before the season was canceled early because of the pandemic, and then winning all 14 of their games against H-DNL opposition in a shortened 2021 campaign.
The two teams matched up well all afternoon, but the Loggers appeared to be on their way to the sweep when they broke a 6-6 tie in the top of the eighth inning to lead by one.
But the Panthers came up clutch in the bottom half of the inning, with Minton blasting a lead-off triple to score a runner from second, and Box following that with the game-winning single.
Raina Ausburn pitched all eight innings for the win and continued to impress, allowing just five hits and four walks and striking out nine.
Trinity Preston led the way offensively in the win, finishing 3-for-4 with a triple, while Minton, Camryn Pinard and Taya Gomes each added two hits, including a double by Pinard.
Rebecca Barnett, Allie Egbert and Mashell Stumpf each also had a hit for the Panthers, including a double by Stumpf.
Kira Morris and Payton Goodman each had a pair of hits for Eureka, including a double and three RBIs by Morris, with Claire Maples also hitting a double.
Kaitlin Giacone took the loss in the pitcher’s circle, giving up 12 hits in 7.1 innings, while striking out seven and not allowing a walk.
Only three of the Panthers’ runs were earned.
The Loggers scored three runs in the top of both the third and fifth innings to open up a 6-1 advantage, but the Panthers answered with five runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie things up again.
Earlier in the day the two teams served up an equally entertaining game, scoring a combined 27 runs on 27 hits.
Eureka’s Maeghan Hampton and Morris each had three hits in the win, including a double and three RBIs by Hampton.
Maples and McKenna Beach each added a pair of hits, with each of them hitting a double, while Goodman, Giacone, Taliyah Cooper, Mallorie Beauchamp and Natalia Anelo rounded out a 15-hit team performance.
The ever-dangerous Pinard had three hits for Mack, including a triple to lead off the game and give her team some early momentum.
Preston and Taya Gomes each had two hits, including a double and three RBIs by Gomes, while Minton had a double.
Egbert, Morgan Stubbs, Ausburn and Box each also had a hit.
Morris got the win in the circle, quickly settling down after Pinard’s lead-off triple and retiring the next 10 batters as the visitors opened up an 8-1 lead to take control.
Both teams would match each other offensively the rest of the way, with the Loggers holding the Panthers at bay.
Seven Panthers errors did not help their cause.
Morris pitched 4.1 innings and allowed seven hits and one walk and struck out six.
Giacone pitched 2.2 strong innings in relief.
Egbert took the loss in the circle for Mack, but looked solid against a very dangerous Eureka offense that had outscored its first eight opponents 79-4.
Egbert gave up 11 hits and three walks in five innings, while striking out two.
Stumpf also looked solid in relief.
With the split, Eureka is now 2-1 in the Big 5 and 9-1 overall, while Mack is 1-2 and 6-3.