The Del Norte softball team started slow on senior night, but came through in the clutch on Wednesday against McKinleyville. The Panthers took an early 3-0 lead, but the Warriors came barreling back for a 5-3 win thanks to some clutch hitting.

“I’m really proud that they stayed with it,” said Del Norte head coach Pablo Lorenzi. “They didn’t fold. It’s hard on senior night because you’ve got all that emotion going on, so it’s tough to settle back down. I think in the beginning those emotions got the better of us, but then we kind of settled down and played the game that we needed to play.”

The win pushed the Warriors to 18-3 overall this season, and secures sole possession of a regular season Big 5 League Championship. Del Norte is currently 10-0 with a three game lead on the second-place Panthers with just two games remaining.

“It means a lot to us, especially after coming in second place for the last three years,” said senior shortstop Payten Healy. “So taking first place definitely feels good.”

The Panthers jumped out to a lead in the top of the first inning with back-to-back singles and a walk after a lead off ground out. McKinleyville then hit into a couple fielder’s choices to end the inning, but the Panthers already had a 2-0 lead.

McKinleyville knocked two more base hits and drew another walk in the third inning to push its lead to three runs.

“Early in the game we made mistakes. Our pitching location wasn’t very good and, give McKinleyville credit, they hit the ball,” Lorenzi said. “They did what they were supposed to do and we didn’t do what we were supposed to.”

Del Norte finally got on the scoreboard in the third inning after Laycee Coopman and Brook Nolan drew walks and Tvshiina Jacobs hit a single to bring them in.

McKinleyville threatened to add to its one run lead in the top of the fifth inning, loading up the bases with just one out. The Panthers attempted a suicide squeeze with a slap bunt, but Nolan fielded the ball cleanly and threw to the plate for the force out. Pitcher Allison Douglas then picked up a strike out to get out of the inning with no damage done.

“I could say on the inside people were probably freaking out, but on the outside we were calm and relaxed,” Healy said. “Ally did a really good job of getting a ground ball and a strike out — that really helps.”

After escaping danger in the top of the inning, Del Norte kept the momentum going at the plate.

Healy started things off with a one-out triple, and scored after tagging up on a shallow sacrifice fly ball into center field by Nolan to tie the game at 3-3.

“I was just trying to do well for my team, especially since I wasn’t able to get on in my first two at bats,” Healy said.

Jacobs kept the inning going with a two-out double into the gap in left center in the next at bat, and Douglas gave the Warriors their first lead of the afternoon with another double on a hard ground ball right down the third base line that allowed Jacobs to come home. Butchell then gave Del Norte a little extra breathing room with an RBI single for a 5-3 lead.

“I’m just happy with the patients that we had at the plate and not getting down,” Lorenzi said. “We executed when we needed to execute, and we came up with two huge hits.”

After Del Norte took the lead, the Warriors defense did the rest. Douglas retired the Panthers’ side in order in the sixth inning, and overcame an fielding error with one out in the seventh inning with back-to-back strike outs to end the game.

Although the Warriors were excited to capture the schools first Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 softball league championship since 2009, Del Norte still has two games left in the regular season with a trip to McKinleyville for a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday. Game one is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.

“We are hoping to start off the way that we finished,” Healy said. “It would mean a lot (to finish undefeated) especially to all the girls that came back from last year.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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