By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Acalanes overcame a five-point deficit with less than four minutes left while defeating tournament host Piner, 57-52, Thursday night in first-round action at the Sonoma County Classic.
In other opening-round games, Cardinal Newman topped Healdsburg, 60-46, Mt. Eden handled Rancho Cotate, 63-36, and Santa Rosa upended Eureka, 61-53.
So, at 8:30 tonight, it will be the most intriguing match-up of the tourney — undefeated Mt. Eden vs. once-beaten Cardinal Newman. The other winners-bracket game, pitting Acalanes against Santa Rosa, tips off at 7.
Piner plays Eureka at 4 p.m.; Healdsburg and Rancho Cotate are set for 5:30 p.m.
On Thursday, Piner appeared on its way to a winners-bracket game as the Prospectors opened a 49-44 lead on Andres Oseguera’s 3-pointer with 3:40 remaining.
However, Acalanes quickly scored six straight points to take a one-point advantage. The Dons increased the margin to three with 20 seconds remaining, and Piner had two chances to force overtime. Keith Adams and Marquise Camp got clear shots, but both times the ball bounced off the rim.
“We just couldn’t close it out,” Piner coach Mike Erickson said. “We had chances but couldn’t get the ball in the goal when we needed it. “We played hard, and I liked the effort.”
Natu Hezchias led the Prospectors with 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Camp added 15 points.
Lack of height hurt Piner. The Prospectors don’t have a player taller than 6-foot, and Acalanes’ best player is 6-foot-7 Buster Souza, who led the Dons with 21 points and hit nine-of-17 shots from the field. He also blocked five shots and pulled down eight rebounds.
Souza had eight points in the fourth quarter as his team outscored the Prospectors, 17-8.
Piner had control of the game in the second quarter, leading by nine with 1:15 left. Hezchias scored 11 of his team’s 13 points in the period.
Acalanes opened the second half with an 11-2 run to get back in the game. After that, neither team had a lead larger than five points.
The Dons, who play in the Diablo Foothill League, improved to 3-8.
Piner had its four-game win streak halted and is 6-5 on the season.