Benefield: Piner boys keep fighting for a league title
Junkyard dogs have a job to do. Junkyard dogs protect what is theirs, they snarl and growl and generally present a menacing front. They scream “Back off.” It’s considered common sense not to mess with them.
Much of that description explains the Piner Prospectors’ internal nickname.
“We are a fast-paced team. We are physical and tough. Coach likes to say that we are a bunch of junkyard dogs and I think that’s what we are,” Piner senior guard Jared Saddler said.
These junkyard dogs in Piner uniforms won a grind of a basketball game 62-55 at Cardinal Newman Friday night, handing the Cardinals their first home loss in two years. But more importantly for the Prospectors, the win moves them to 8-0 and in command of the North Bay League-Oak Division title chase with just two games to play. The Cardinals fall to 6-2. Their only other loss? These same Piner Prospectors.
It didn’t look, early on, like these Piner dogs had any teeth. They couldn’t buy a bucket. Cardinal Newman came out pressing and bothering Piner with their man-to-man defense — much like the Prospectors have done to opponents all season.
“They came out with fire, they came out aggressive,” Piner senior Adonis Gutierrez said of the Cardinals.
“We struggled early on, but tried to stay the course,” he said. “I never felt like we were out of it. Coach always tells us if we are down to always stay the course because it’s a long game, a long 32 minutes.”
Coach Mike Erickson was more succinct about how the game was going early on.
“They bullied us a little bit,” he said. “I said, ‘We have to toughen up.’”
After a lackluster first quarter in which Cardinal Newman thoroughly dominated and raced to a 14-6 advantage behind senior Giancarlo Woods’ six points, Piner started to grind back into it. It was 25-22 Cardinal Newman at the half and 38-35 in favor of the Cardinals after three quarters.
Saddler, who had been relatively quiet offensively with just four points in the first half, found his rhythm and found it fast. He had seven points in the third and hit two straight threes to open the fourth en route to a 20-point game to lead all scorers.
“Coach put us in the right position and we trusted ourselves and we stayed the course,” he said. “We knew we had to battle and we did.”
Piner senior Yonatan Isack had a super night, even if it took him a bit to light up. He had seven points — all in the fourth quarter, including a backbreaking three pointer late that ignited the Prospector fans. And he grabbed some key rebounds, none bigger than the offensive board he grabbed after junior Isaac Torres missed two straight free throws with Piner up 53-48 with 2:21 to play.
But it was the sharpshooting Saddler and the workhorse Gutierrez who kept the Prospectors in it. It was that duo that shared ball-handling duties in the face of mighty pressure from the Cardinals.
Gutierrez, as he has been all season, was consistent and steady all night. He had two points in the first, six in the second, four in the third and seven in the fourth, for 19 points on the night.