Performance inspires optimism for future

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Piner defeated visiting Santa Rosa, 63-53, Friday night in the season finale for both teams and before the gym had cleared, the opposing coaches were already looking forward to next season.

Piner's Skyler Ramos tries to dribble between Santa Rosa's Jakari Keita, left, and Nick Keeton, right, during the game held at Piner High School, Feb. 11, 2011. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD)

Prospectors coach Mike Erickson has ample reason to be looking ahead as his two leading scorers in the season-ending game — Skyler Ramos (22) and Lawrance Whitt Jr. (13) — will be back next season.

John McGill, who at the moment is the Panthers’ interim coach, was encouraged that the school’s freshman team won league with a 13-1 mark and the junior varsity finished with a winning record (14-12).

In Friday’s game, Santa Rosa led 18-9 in the first quarter but hit a dry spell, going seven minutes without scoring. Piner responded by with 18 unanswered points, capped by a 3-pointer by Ramos with three minutes left before halftime.

The Panthers clawed back and trailed by five, 43-38, entering the final quarter. However, another Ramos 3-pointer and two steals by Matt LoCoco that resulted in four quick points pushed the lead back to 12.

“We have a decent foundation moving forward,” Erickson said. “The kids are going to have to work hard over the summer, but we have the potential to be a good team.”

Piner finished the season 9-16 and 5-9 in league.

“We don’t look like the same team we were six or seven weeks ago,” Erickson said. “We worked hard, played our best basketball at the end of the season. That makes me feel like we accomplished a lot.”

Most years, Erickson’s teams are among the NBL elite. However, the Prospectors have had losing records three of the past six seasons.

Piner will graduate six of 12 players on its varsity roster, including Calvin Gonzales. The forward, who missed the past three games with the flu, scored 12 in his final high school game.

“I wish I had another year,” Gonzales said. “The way we improved the last part of the season, next year the guys will be even better.”

Whitt, who had a game-high 10 rebounds, also anticipates improved results in 2012.

“We’ll be strong,” the forward said. “We won’t have a lot of height, but we’ll equalize that by being scrappy. We’re going to work hard, that’s for sure.”

Friday night ended a difficult year for Santa Rosa. The Panthers did not win a league game and finished with an overall record of 1-25.

However, that’s only half the story.

Midway through the season, McGill took over coaching duties from Kris Mahiri. McGill had been coaching the junior varsity and kept both jobs.

Then, on Dec. 31, Matthew Voge, an assistant coach and father to two of the nine players on the varsity, passed away. He was 49 and died from brain cancer.

In the final game of his high school career, his son Nate Voge scored a season-high 18 points. The center played with a lot of emotion from the start, swishing three 3-pointers in the first quarter.

“It’s been a difficult year,” Voge said. “I was glad I ended it with my best game of season.”

His brother, Stephen, will be back next year.

“I think the team next year will be a playoff contender,” Nate said. “Our record wasn’t good this season, but we stayed positive and had fun.”