By Ray Hamill — It was certainly a successful start to the North Coast Section soccer playoffs for the H-DNL contingent this week, but that’s nothing more than what we expected.
Of the six teams to kick off the postseason on Wednesday, five are moving on and will join four others who won’t begin their postseason adventure until this weekend.
So what did we learn from the opening few games? And what’s next for the H-DNL teams?
Well, first of all, we need to give a special mention to two teams that posted breakthrough wins in their openers.
The H-DNL champion Del Norte boys continued to set a phenomenal standard on defense, where they now have not given up a goal in more than 520 minutes, a run of six straight shutouts.
More importantly, their 3-0 win over Gateway in Crescent City was their first-ever home playoff win.
The Warriors have won postseason showdowns on the road before, but this was the program’s first-ever at home and that’s a notable achievement.
After waiting so long for a first home playoff win, the No. 4 seeds will try to make it two home playoff wins in just four days when they host No. 5 International in a quarterfinal on Saturday afternoon at 2.
The Eureka boys beat Middletown 2-1 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the score would suggest, giving the Loggers a first postseason victory in 16 years.
Congratulations to both programs.
2 — All-local matchups
The H-DNL is now guaranteed at least one team in a section final this year, and probably will get a few more.
After a bye in the quarterfinals, the No. 1 seeded Eureka girls will host No. 5 Arcata in the latest chapter of this fascinating rivalry.
The Tigers had to travel south for their opening game, winning 5-0 at Middletown to set up a much shorter trek for their semifinal.
The winner of Saturday’s game, naturally, will advance to the Division-1 decider, where they may play the Fortuna girls.
It should be an intriguing matchup between two teams that split a pair of league games this season.
Which leads us to our next talking point …
3 — Intriguing doubleheader at Fortuna
The Fortuna boys and girls teams have enjoyed tremendous success in the NCS in recent years, and Fortuna is the only H-DNL school to win a section crown in both boys and girls soccer.
On Saturday night, the two teams will host their next games, with the boys playing Eureka in a quarterfinal at 5 p.m. and the No. 2 seeded girls hosting No. 3 Credo in a semifinal at 7.
4 — Smaller schools get set to open
Two local teams that did not play on Wednesday will kick off their postseason on Friday afternoon, including one here in Humboldt County.
After clinching the Little 4 last week, the St. Bernard’s girls received the No. 2 seed in the four-team girls Division-3 bracket and will open at home against No. 3 Technology.
The Ferndale girls received the No. 4 seed in the same bracket and will open at No. 1 Mendocino.
Both games are set for 3:30 p.m. and if the two L4 schools win that will set up an all-local final on Wednesday.
Interestingly, the SB girls are playing for a fourth consecutive NCS championship and they won all three of their previous titles as the No. 2 seed.
Deja vu anyone?
5 — Tough matchup for the Tigers
The Arcata boys, meanwhile, will be challenged in their quarterfinal.
The No. 8 seed Tigers had to travel to Lower Lake for their opening game and beat the No. 9 seeded league champs 4-2.
They’ll travel again on Friday afternoon, heading to Oakland to play No. 1 seed Head-Royce at 3:30 p.m.
6 — Panthers do themselves proud
No. 10 McKinleyville played with just 10- players for the second half but did themselves proud, pushing the higher seeds all the way in a highly-entertaining showdown.
“So proud of the whole team for battling back while playing a man down that whole second half,” Panthers head coach Ryne Deppe said. “You have so many things not go your way and you keep fighting till the end.
“We left our hearts out on that field tonight.”