Loggers dig deep, win NCS opener on Giacone’s walk-off hit

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Eureka’s Payton Goodman fields the ball during Saturday’s game.

By Ray Hamill — The Eureka Loggers are moving on in the North Coast Section softball playoffs after an extra-innings win over Encinal on Saturday, the second extra-innings playoff game involving Big 5 teams in less than 24 hours.

After seeing a 3-1 lead evaporate in the top of the seventh inning, the Eureka girls had to dig deep to pull out this victory, but they kept their heads in the game and didn’t allow the late Jets rally to get to them.

And once again, it was the big bats that led the way.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth, McKenna Beach and Kira Morris hit back-to-back first-pitch singles.

Kaitlin Giacone than made it three consecutive Eureka hits with a walk-off RBI single to right field to score Beach and end the game and send the No. 1 seeds marching on to the semifinals

“I thought we kept our composure,” said head coach Robin Johnson. “It was a good team win. They kept their energy up all game. There was never a lull.”

Giacone continued to impress both defensively in center field and at the plate, where she finished 3-for-4 to lead the team.

In addition to her game-winning RBI, the sophomore standout also hit a monster home run in the bottom of the fourth, providing an immediate response after the visitors had opened their account with a run in the top of the fourth.

Kira Morris also was instrumental in the win, pitching a four-hitter and giving her team an early advantage with a two-run home run in the first.

In the circle, Morris struck out 11 and walked three and she has yet to lose this season, improving her record to 22-0. She also finished 2-for-4 on offense.

Eureka’s Zia Gee tries to tag out a runner at first.

KIra Morris

McKenna Beach also was 2-for-4 in the win, while Maeghan Hampton added a first-inning double to help set the early tone.

Third baseman Claire Maples made her much-anticipated return from injury after missing almost all of league play and had an immediate impact, finishing 2-for-3.

The Loggers, who played some good defense, led 3-1 going into the top of the seventh, but the Jets put together a two-out rally to score twice and force extra innings.

The win was the 25th on the season for the Eureka girls, who have lost just once, and it moves them within two victories of a first-ever NCS championship and a place in the inaugural NorCal Regional state playoffs.

Claire Maples

“I think it’s awesome,” Johnson said. “We had a good season and we want to keep it going as long as possible.”

Next up, the Loggers will host No. 5 seed Maria Carrillo out of Santa Rosa — Johnson’s former high school — on Tuesday at 5 p.m. after the Pumas got the better of Albany 10-3 in their quarterfinal on Saturday.

McKinleyville and Fortuna were also involved in an extra-innings playoff game on Friday, which Mack won 6-5 in 10.

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