Sean Sutherland used the word “special” more than once to describe his team.
His Piner Prospectors boys soccer team is a lot of things: talented, young and fast. But Sutherland kept going back to the word special.
“There is something special about this team,” Sutherland said. “They work hard, they work well together, the chemistry is there. When it’s time to be serious, they are serious; when it’s time to have some fun they have some fun — it clicks. We just feel it.”
And unfortunately for the competition, the Prospectors are making everyone they face feel it, too.
Piner is 9-2-1 overall after notching some eye-catching wins against vaunted North Bay League programs and is now 6-1 in the Sonoma County League at the halfway mark, having only dropped a 2-1 decision to Healdsburg back in early December. They are looking to avenge that loss Saturday at home in a 2 p.m. rematch.
And a forewarning to all: Piner is young.
The Prospectors are led by leading scorer Elmer Pineda-Calderon and Adrian Ochoa, both central midfielders and both seniors. But on the 17-man roster, there are just four seniors. There are four juniors, eight sophomores and one freshman.
“They have known each other a long time,” Sutherland said. “They have this intensity and they have this chemistry.”
And they have been tested. Their preseason schedule was no joke, and the way the schedules fleshed out for league games, it was back-to-back games for long stretches for most teams. The Prospectors weathered that storm better than everyone else.
The Prospectors came out swinging. They scheduled three games with North Bay League teams and beat them all. They handed Maria Carrillo — a North Coast Section Division II team — a 4-0 loss on Dec. 2. And this is a Carrillo team that is on the rise, with a 5-3 record before Friday night’s game against Casa Grande.
Then they beat Division II Santa Rosa High 4-1 on Dec. 7.
On Dec. 18, the Prospectors beat Rancho Cotate 1-0. Rancho is a Division III team sitting in second place in the NBL with an 8-1 record heading into Friday night’s contest with Windsor.
That’s a lot of heavy hitting for a group dominated by underclassmen.
But perhaps that youth has showed a little bit. Just after handing Santa Rosa what could be argued as the Panthers’ worst loss of the season, the Prospectors faltered and were beaten 2-1 by Healdsburg.
“We were exhausted,” Sutherland said. “We were just hurt and tired. The boys put their heart and soul into the Rosa game, so having to play two days later that early in the season, we were just not as prepared as we thought we were.”
Discussions followed. How good did the Prospectors want to be?
“I told them, take that feeling they have — they were all very upset — and remember it,” Sutherland said. “We don’t want to do this again.”
“They understood we should have done better in that game. No one played up to their potential,” he said. “You have to be hungry.”
The Prospectors answered nine days later when they beat Rancho Cotate.