Watson leads Panthers to breakthrough league win

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Action from Thursday’s game at Arcata.

By Ray Hamill — It was a long time coming, but that only made it extra special.

On Thursday afternoon, the McKinleyville Panthers got their first league win in Big 4 girls soccer, beating the Tigers 1-0 in Arcata.

Despite not winning any of their first seven league games, the Mack girls have been one of the most competitive teams in the H-DNL this fall, with four of their last five losses coming by just a single goal.

Late in Thursday’s game it appeared as if it might be the same old story for the Panthers, when the home team was awarded a penalty kick.

However, the shot sailed over the crossbar and left the door open for a dramatic late finish.

And the Panthers jumped at the opportunity. 

Junior Gabby Watson, who has been one of her team’s most consistent players all season, duly obliged when she netted the winner just a few minutes from time on a wonderful long range strike low to the ground.

“We played hard,” first-year head coach Brady Burtchett said. “I thought we played very well. In the second half we came together and kept pushing and played really well as a team.”

In slippery conditions, the Mack coaches encouraged their players to keep their shots low and Watson did exactly that to beat the Arcata goalkeeper on the decisive shot.

The junior stopper has anchored the Mack defense all season, but has also been encouraged to push forward when she can.

Sweeper Lacie Rink also had a good game for the Panthers, as goalkeeper Caitlyn Canepa and her defense got their first shutout in league play.

Junior Mary Ann Som also did a good job helping to mark Arcata’s Quinlynn Rush Copple and Sionna Khattab, who have been two of the Tigers most dangerous players all season.

The Tigers had their opportunities but were unable to get a breakthrough, although their defense played well.

Check out the winning goal and postgame celebrations above …

“That’s been a consistent all season,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said of the Tigers defense. “Our defense did really well. It was a good shot that snuck into the corner for the goal, but we definitely had our chances.”

The breakthrough victory should give the Mack girls a boost heading into their final league game against Eureka and hopefully the North Coast Section playoffs.

“It gives us some momentum,” Burtchett said. “We know we can play with anybody.”

And the head coach says his team will definitely play in the NCS tournament if included in the bracket.

“We’re going if we get a chance,” Burtchett said.

The Panthers are currently ranked No. 8 in the NCS, according to MaxPreps, with Eureka No. 1, Fortuna No. 2, Arcata No. 4 and St. Bernard’s No. 6.

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