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If you didn’t see this one coming, you are not alone.

The Piner Prospectors, who received little fanfare heading into the Sonoma County League boys basketball race, are heading into the post season after tying with Petaluma for second place behind Analy, which won the title outright.

It is the third time in as many years that the Prospectors have come in second in league, but few, if any, saw such a strong finish coming from Piner this season — aside from perhaps the scrappy Prospectors themselves.

“Most people thought that this year we would not be very good,” said freshman and starting point guard Scott Erickson. “Everyone thought we were a dark horse; we weren’t going to be any good. And we are proving everyone wrong and beating them when they don’t think we can.”

That “dark horse” reference? Yeah, you can find that in The Press Democrat’s season preview back in early January.

Well, who can blame us? Not a single Prospector played varsity basketball last year. Two starters were in middle school.

“No one came to scout us,” Erickson said.

So if it feels like these guys came out of nowhere, well, they kind of did.

But the Prospectors posted some noteworthy wins, which signals they are a squad not to be overlooked. They beat a strong Santa Rosa team in triple overtime back in December. They beat eventual league winner Analy by 10 points earlier this month after falling to the Tigers by 21 points in their first meeting.

Coach Mike Erickson, who has been the Prospectors’ head coach for a quarter century, shakes his head when asked about the success of this mystery squad. They have done things this season that one would expect of a youthful group — posted big wins, followed by blowout losses.

But they have also done some things no one expects of a youthful, inexperienced squad. The Prospectors have been in three overtime games and won them all.

“We have a lot of clutch people on our team,” said Andres Barragan, a junior forward averaging five points per game. “And as a team we can make things happen; we are really very good under pressure.”

That kind of experience can prove invaluable come North Coast Section time. NCS seeding will be announced Sunday.

“Early in the year, I’m thinking this is going to be tough sledding,” Mike Erickson, who is also Scott’s dad, said. “They worked hard, they are receptive to coaching. We have had some bumps, but they’ve gotten better.”

Behind a breakout season by Scott Erickson, the freshman floor general who is leading his team with nearly 15 points and four assists per game, the Prospectors have put together a cast of players whose faces may be new, but whose weapons are becoming all too familiar to their foes.

“They battle and fight every night,” Mike Erickson said.

The Prospectors are successful because they play as a unit, said Sean Terry, Piner’s big man who came straight to the hardwood from the football squad.

“If we don’t play as a group, we don’t win,” the 6-foot-4 center said.

“We all put in an equal amount, we just have to play together.

“I feel like each game, each practice we are growing. We are willing to listen and learn. I think we’ve done really good,” he said.

Terry, it should be noted, didn’t even play basketball last season. Still, he’s averaging almost eight points and eight rebounds per game.

It should also be noted that the Prospectors run small.

Junior Jace Foster stands 5-9 but usually gets the toughest defensive assignment. He has the confidence for the job — this is a guy who spun the basketball on his finger while being interviewed.

“He’ll give up size but he scraps and battles,” Mike Erickson said of the guard who is averaging 11 points per game and five rebounds.

The Prospectors are coming off a 46-17 win over Sonoma Valley last week and tonight face a senior-heavy Petaluma squad that they tied for second place in the SCL. The squads split their two league matchups.

Piner topped the Trojans 52-44 in January, but lost the rematch 44-35. In both cases the home team won. Tonight’s game will be played at Piner, where the Prospectors have a 5-3 home-court record.

Freshman Christian Gutierrez said it’s been a season of “I told you so.” After all, the Prospectors graduated 11 seniors from last year’s second-place squad. Not much was expected from this crew.

That’s all changed. Gutierrez, who is averaging three points and four rebounds a game, is fine with that.

“It feels good to win with this group because we are young, inexperienced, and since last year’s team did really good, we just want to prove everybody wrong,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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