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Pierce survives challenge from Hamilton
The lead switched hands nine times in the first 26 minutes before Pierce High took control of the game and beat Hamilton 49-45 during a Sacramento Valley League game Friday in Arbuckle.
"They were a pretty tough team, and we were expecting a tough game tonight, but now we have a target behind our head and we're going to look towards Live Oak," Pierce forward Oscar Dorantes said.
Pierce (15-5, 8-1 SVL) travels to face second-place Live Oak (14-5, 8-2) on Friday, but remained focused against Hamilton, which dropped into a tie with Willows for third place in league.
Shea Shull led the Braves (13-10, 5-4) with 26 points and kept them in the game with clutch jumpers from the perimeter and was effective driving to the hoop.
"He needs to be aggressive if we want to be in any ballgame and he did that tonight," said Hamilton coach Brian Erickson.
Shull scored 11 points in the second quarter and Hamilton took a 26-23 lead into halftime, but Pierce retook the lead immediately after the break. Hayden Kalfsbeek hit a 3-point shot, then stole the ball on the next possession and passed to Andy Corona for a lay-up.
Shull responded with a 3-point shot to retake the lead with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, but Dorantes scored five consecutive points for a 36-34 Pierce lead entering the fourth quarter.
A jump shot by Shull tied the game early in the fourth and Tim Bekendam hit a free throw for a one-point Braves lead, but Corona scored on the Bears' next possession to make it 38-37, and Pierce led the rest of the way.
"We're playing extremely hard. I can't be mad after a loss like this. They're playing their butts off so we've just got to swallow (the loss) and keep going," Erickson said.
Joey Hernandez hit a critical 3-pointer with less than two minutes left in the game that pushed the Bears' lead to six points, and free throws by Jesus Huerta and Dorantes created some breathing room down the stretch.
Hernandez, Huerta and Kalfsbeek are a big reason why the Bears are challenging for the league title this year, after finishing 11-11 and in fourth place last season.
"Our role players are able to be a threat where last year they were just role players. They were young, juniors, not knowing how to be a threat on the varsity level. That's one of the big differences from last year to this year," Pierce coach Noah Gomez said.
Gomez relies on Hernandez and Huerta to match up with the opposition's two best players on defense, but both have the capability to score. Huerta's agility allows him to get to the hoop, and Hernandez and Kalfsbeek are threats from behind the 3-point line.
That trio, and forward Preston Smith, the team's steady sixth man, fill out the team around leading scorers Dorantes and Corona.
Dorantes led Pierce with 19 points, Corona scored 10, Huerta scored eight, Hernandez scored seven and Kalfsbeek added five.
Shull led all scorers with 26 points, Bekendam added seven and Leland Prior scored six.
The Braves travel to East Nicolaus on Friday to face the Spartans (8-11, 4-4).
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or email@example.com.