By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
HEALDSBURG — The Greyhounds won Wednesday night’s Sonoma County League boys tournament semifinal over Piner, 63-57, but not before sweating it out in the final minute after blowing a huge early lead.
Down 16 late in the second quarter, third-seeded Piner (15-11) came out with a vengeance in the third period. The Prospectors outscored the second-seeded Greyhounds 23-14 in the eight-minute period to cut Healdsburg’s lead to 46-41 to start the fourth quarter.
“It was our infamous third quarter; we came out flat,” Healdsburg coach Nick Galvan said. “Piner built momentum, and we weren’t doing the little things like boxing out and going for loose balls.”
Healdsburg advances to the SCL title game versus top-seeded Analy at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Santa Rosa JC. Healdsburg lost the two regular season matchups against the tall and athletic Tigers by eight and 19 points. Analy, 12-0 in the SCL regular season, will be a heavy favorite in the title game. The Tigers easily defeated fourth-seeded Petaluma 76-53 in Wednesday night’s other SCL semifinal.
“We are very excited for Saturday. Our boys wouldn’t want to play anyone else,” Galvan said. “To be the best you have to beat the best.”
Despite the big first half lead against Piner, it was dicey at the end as to whether Healdsburg would hold on. The Prospectors rode their deft outside shooting to narrow the Greyhounds’ lead to 58-57 with one minute to play before Healdsburg’s Sam Walker buried a 3-point shot from the corner with 45 seconds to play to extend the Greyhounds lead and ultimately give them the victory.
“Walker’s three was the game winner in my opinion,” Galvin said. “He had a guy in his face. Walker has ice in his veins. It’s our biggest 3-point shot of the year.”
Said Piner coach Mike Erickson: “Walker making that three — that was a big shot.”
Healdsburg (22-5) had a balanced scoring attack led by point guard Cameron Lutz with 19 points. Walker finished with 15 points on five 3-pointers. Jonah Lutz had 13 points and big man Arnold Silva (6-foot-6) had 11 points and a monster game cleaning the glass with 21 rebounds.
“Silva had the height advantage,” Galvin said. “When Arnold jumps with his wingspan, at his highest point he is probably the best rebounder in the Redwood Empire.”
With Silva leading the way, Healdsburg held a 32-24 rebounding advantage. Both teams lit it up beyond the three point arc with Piner hitting 11-of-28 and Healdsburg eight-of-17.
Piner was led by Marquise Camp with 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Keith Adams added 11 points and Natu Hezkeyez had 10 points.
“Camp is dangerous because he is a slasher and a shooter,” Galvin said. “The game was nail-bitter for sure. We knew Piner would bring it.”
For the Prospectors, they had an uphill battle by digging themselves in a first half hole. Piner only trailed 12-11 in the opening seconds of the second quarter but then Healdsburg went on a 14-2 run to take a 26-13 lead with 3:20 to play in the first half.
“We let Healdsburg get too much separation on us. We missed some easy shots in the first half,” Erickson said. “Healdsburg is a great shooting team. You give them a little space and they bang them in.”
Healdsburg had trouble from the free throw line, converting barely over half of their attempts (15-27). Fortunately for the Greyhounds they hit most of their free throws down the stretch in the fourth quarter when they really needed them.
“We feel very, very fortunate that we were able to hold on and win,” Galvin said. “It’s a testament to our resilience to grind it out a little bit on an off night for us.”
Healdsburg will have no such happy ending against Analy on Saturday if the Greyhounds have an off night.