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Third time charm as Pierce tops Willows
When it mattered the most, Pierce High finally beat Willows.
The Bears avenged two close losses earlier in the basketball season with a 51-48 victory Wednesday in Arbuckle.
The Honkers (9-16, 4-7) needed a win to keep their playoff hopes and their coach's final season alive, while Pierce (16-6, 9-2) needed a win to stay tied with Live Oak atop the Sacramento Valley League standings.
"It kind of came over from football, that we had to beat Willows when it counted," Pierce coach Noah Gomez said.
For the last two football seasons, Willows lost to the Bears during the regular season but pulled off the upset in the playoffs. In basketball, the roles were reversed. The Honkers earned a 51-50 overtime victory during Pierce's home tournament and stunned the Bears with a 64-60 victory on Jan. 18.
Pierce lost to Live Oak a week ago and turned every game into a must-win if the Bears wanted to earn at least a share of the league title.
"All that we could think is when it counts, that's when we are going to win. There was nothing else that could count more than this game," Gomez said.
The loss gave the Honkers a losing record in league and ended their playoff hopes, a disappointing end to Darrell Schonauer's long and successful career as the boys basketball coach at Willows High.
Schonauer, who coached at the school for 17 years, knew this year would be a struggle after losing all seven seniors from last season's league championship winning team but was proud of the growth the team exhibited throughout the season.
With just three players returning, the Honkers lost more games than they won for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, but still pulled off upsets of Pierce and Live Oak during league play.
"They came on, they kept fighting. We were young and inexperienced, there are a lot of juniors and a sophomore. As long as they play hard that's all you can ask for," Schonauer said. "I'm proud of the way they played, they played hard but made some mistakes."
The experience the Honkers gained this season, and the addition of several talented players from the junior varsity team, will help the team improve next year, Schonauer said.
Hayden Kalfsbeek hit 3-pointers on Pierce's first two possessions, but the next six minutes belonged to the Honkers as they went on a 14-0 run and entered the second quarter with an 18-8 lead.
After Ryan Amaru gave the Honkers a 12-point lead at the start of the second quarter, the Bears went on a 10-0 run of their own, capped off by a 3-pointer by Joey Hernandez. Kalfsbeek tied the game with just under two minutes remaining with his third 3-pointer of the half, but Amaru hit a free throw to give Willows a 27-26 halftime lead.
"We had a chip on our shoulder and we had to come into this game ready to play," Kalfsbeek said.
Andy Corona put Pierce back on top with two points early in the third quarter and the Bears held the lead until the start of the fourth.
Amaru scored four points, and Travis Mendes and J.B. Renfro hit baskets to give the Honkers a 45-41 lead with 4:30 remaining.
Then Kalfsbeek found his range once again, hitting two 3-pointers in the final four minutes, including the go-ahead trey with just under two minutes remaining
"(Assistant coach) Cecil Felkins told me just stay relaxed, don't let it get to your head, if you miss a few just keep shooting, just keep shooting, and that's what we did," Kalfsbeek said.
Corona added an insurance bucket with 36 seconds left and grabbed the final rebound as time ran out.
Kalfsbeek shot 5 for 11 from behind the 3-point line and finished with 15 points, tied for the game high with Corona and Amaru, the Honkers' center.
All told, four Pierce players hit 3-pointers and they made eight in the game. Oscar Dorantes and Joey both scored seven points.
Mendes scored 10 points for Willows, Renfro added eight and Jake Martin scored seven.
Pierce finished the regular season on Friday with a home game against East Nicolaus and await the Northern Section seeding meeting which takes place today.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or email@example.com.