By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
After finishing 6-15 last year, the Del Norte High baseball team made great strides this season by almost obtaining a playoff berth.
But that opportunity faded away on Wednesday, as the Warriors could not hold on to a 4-0 lead, falling to McKinleyville 9-6 at home Wednesday to end the season for Del Norte.
The team needed to win its final three games to have a good chance to be invited to the North Coast section playoffs, which begin next week.
They were on their way when they defeated Fortuna in two games on Saturday to give them the chance to contend for a postseason berth heading into Wednesday's game.
The Warriors finished the year at 11-12 overall and 5-7 in the Big 5 Conference, after starting the season 0-4.
"We've come a long way from beginning to end," head coach Pablo Lorenzi said. "I'm proud of the progress they made. If was a fun group of guys to be around."
Lorenzi returned as head coach this year after a several year absence.
On Wednesday, things began quite well for Del Norte.
After getting through the top of the first with no runs scored on them, it was the Warriors turn to bat.
Joey Yeoman was able to hit the ball, and on his way to first, a wild throw gave him the chance to get to second base.
Senior Kevin Walsworth hit a single to move Yeoman to third.
With runners in scoring position, senior Justin Yslas made sure to take advantage of the situation, by slamming the ball deep into the outfield. The ball bounced over the wall for a ground rule double to score one run. The next batter, Chad Freeman, was able to score in another run and make it 2-0. The hits continued when Kyler Davis scored in another run to make the score 3-0. Evan O'Brien was able to smack a double to score in another run to give the Warriors a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead.
But the Panthers, who have been near the top of the standings in the Big 5 throughout the season, had other plans.
The top of the second did not go well for Del Norte. With two outs and runners at first and second, a single by McKinleyville followed by a walk cut the lead to 4-2.
Things got worse when the Panthers crushed the ball to left field to score in two runs and take a 5-4 lead.
Lorenzi said this is where the tide started to turn. To him, the team lost some of its mental focus and let McKinleyville get back in the game.
The next few innings, Del Norte could not get anything going offensively. McKinleyville pitcher Nick Rasines, after a rough first inning, found his stride and was able to dominate the Warriors. He ended the game with seven strikeouts.
In the fourth inning, the Panthers scored two more runs to extend the lead to 7-4.
In the sixth inning, the Panthers continued to hit well, scoring in another two runs to take a commanding 9-4 advantage.
But the Warriors were not going to give up so easily. In the bottom of the sixth, Del Norte started working on a rally.
Walsworth hit a single, followed by a double by Yslas. Freeman hit a sacrifice fly to bring in a run, and Davis hit a single to score in another run and cut the lead to 9-6.
"We did not give up," Lorenzi said. "We battled the whole time."
In the bottom of the seventh, Del Norte still had hope they could pull out a comeback. Members of the team sat next to the dugout fence and brought their caps out, moving them up and down hoping to see a rally start.
But Rasines continued to throw strongly and was able to easily get the final three outs and end the game and the season for the Warriors.
For the game, Yslas went 2-for-3 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI.
Davis went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. Walsworth ended up 2-for-3 with two runs.
O'Brien went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI.