The Arcata Tigers won their third straight Big 5 series to keep their league title hopes on track on Saturday, but the host McKinleyville Panthers made them battle for it.
Playing at McKinleyville High, the home team broke a late tie in the opening game of a doubleheader on the way to a 2-1 win, before the Arcata boys battled back to take game two 6-3 and secure the series win.
The victory in the rubber game lifted the Tigers to 6-3 in the Big 5 and leaves them tied with Fortuna atop the standings heading into the final week of league action.
McKinleyville’s Branson Dobrec pitched a complete game for the win in Saturday’s opener, allowing just one run on five hits and no walks.
The Panthers took an early lead with a run in the bottom of the first and led for much of the game.
After the Tigers tied things up in the top of the sixth, the home team responded in the bottom half of the inning when the in-form Riles Egbert singled in what would prove to be the winning run.
“Branson pitched good and we played defense behind him,” McKinleyville head coach Mike Dobrec said. “We took care of the baseball. It was a good win for the kids.”
Egbert and Kolbey Stolpe led the way at the plate for the Panthers, with the ever-consistent Stolpe finishing 2-for-2 with a double and Egbert going 2-for-3 with the game-winning RBI.
Impressive freshman Pat Wilson was involved in both of his teams runs, scoring one and driving in the other, while Jackson Kelly was 1-for-3 with a run.
Finn Warner led the Tigers at the plate and finished 2-for-3, while Wilson Medina, Noah York and Ben Lukens each also had a hit.
Lukens pitched well despite the loss, allowing just five hits in a complete-game performance and striking out two.
The home team would battle back to within one, but the Arcata boys would add a couple of late insurance runs, and that would prove to be enough for the impressive Cedar Cline on the mound and his defense.
Cline has been inspirational for the Tigers in league play and came up huge once again in the series decider.
The senior allowed just three hits all game and struck out nine, and he has stepped up big time in recent weeks with lingering injuries limiting the pitching options for the league leaders.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way in the first game, but I thought our pitchers did a great job for us today,” Arcata head coach Troy Ghisetti said. “Cline was huge for us, and the great thing is we’re getting hitting one through nine. These kids are stepping up.”
York capped a big day at the plate with three more hits and finished the two games 4-for-5, while Will Mager added a double and Medina, Warner, Noah Waterhouse and Chase Coleman rounded out an eight-hit team performance.
“It was a good team effort for us,” Ghisetti said. “We won another series.”
Ghisetti also praised the efforts of York and Waterhouse, who have stepped up their games with the recent injuries.
For McKinleyville, Jackson Kelly was 1-for-2 with a triple, an RBI and a run, while Stolpe was 1-for-3 with a run, Tenoch Tapia was 1-for-3 with an RBI and Wilson added another RBI.
Scott Meyer and Kelly combined on the mound and held their own, allowing eight hits between them, while striking out three.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Mike Dobrec said. “Arcata jumped out to a 4-0 lead and we battled back. It would have been real easy to hang their heads, but they battled back. We battled and that’s all I can ask of them.”
The Panthers close out league play 6-6 and are now 11-9 overall, while the Tigers are now 17-4 overall.