By Ray Hamill — It was a fun week for the H-DNL teams in the North Coast Section playoffs, and that that should continue this weekend
Incredibly, 12 local teams remain alive as we reach the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, at least six of which harbor realistic championship ambitions.
H-DNL teams played in 11 games on Tuesday and Wednesday and won eight of them, including three teams who were victorious in extra innings away from home.
Here then are five talking points after the opening round of games …
1 — Huskies win on the road
The Fortuna Huskies were road warriors this week, with both the baseball and softball teams posting impressive road wins.
In a tricky 8 vs. 9 seed matchup, the Fortuna girls rallied late to tie their game at Cloverdale and went on to win 5-1 in nine innings.
Kylee Fennell and Kelsie Hall were outstanding for the Huskies.
In baseball, meanwhile, the Fortuna boys followed that with a big 12-5 win at No. 6 seed St. Helena 24 hours later.
The Ferndale boys also won a thrilling extra-innings game at Point Arena.
2 — Top dogs get set to join the fray
Four of the five local top seeds had either an opening-round bye or won by forfeit, and all four of them will open their playoffs this weekend.
The Eureka, Hoopa and McKinleyville girls and the Arcata boys all have realistic ambitions of winning a section championship as they get set to join the fray, and all will fancy their chances against lower-seeded teams in their openers, although none of them will be taking their opponents lightly.
In the Division-5 bracket, Hoopa is bidding for an H-DNL record seventh NCS title in softball, while in Division 3, Eureka will be hoping for a first-ever NCS crown.
Both offer intriguing storylines, and they’re not the only ones.
The McKinleyville girls are looking for a second straight section title after winning one in 2019, which was the last time the playoffs were held.
Likewise with the Arcata boys, who are looking for their third title in five consecutive postseasons.
The H-DNL’s fifth No. 1 seeds this year are the St. Bernard’s boys, who are red-hot favorites in Division 6 and looking to add to the program’s impressive haul of 13 section titles in baseball, which is one more than the rest of the H-DNL combined.
All of which brings us on to No. 3 …
3 — Record haul of championships still possible
The league teams have been eliminated from only one of the six brackets they qualified for — Division-3 baseball.
H-DNL programs remain well in the hunt in the other five divisions — D-3, D-4 and D-5 in softball and D-4 and D-6 in baseball — with top seeds in all five brackets.
Incredibly, the smallest conference in the NCS took home four combined section titles the last time the postseason was held in 2019 and there’s every reason to believe the H-DNL can match that tally or even top it this year.
The next week and a half could be historic for the local league.
4 — The catch of the season
The first-round action also gave us one of the defensive plays of the season, when St. Bernard’s centerfielder Courteney Goodman made a spectacular catch in the seventh inning of the Crusaders game against University.
Multiple longtime coaches and umpires told me it was one of the best catches any of them have seen in a long time.
If Goodman and her teammates continue playing that effectively on defense they will be a tough matchup for Hoopa on Friday evening.
5 — H-DNL goes 3-1 in hard-to-call games
One of the most impressive stats from the opening round of games is how effectively the league fared in the hard-to-call matchups.
H-DNL teams won three of four games between either 8 and 9 seeds or 4 and 5 seeds, which are always tricky showdowns, with victories for the St. Bernard’s and Fortuna girls and the South Fork boys.
And that further highlights how completive the league when it comes to NCS baseball and softball.