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Nieto back just in time

Senior has EU thinking upset

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Nieto back just in time

East Union’s Justin Nieto tries to draw contact from Ripon defender Curtis Azevedo while attempting a shot during a nonleague contest.


POSTED February 1, 2013 12:03 a.m.

The Valley Oak League boys basketball standings are a bit misleading.

Or so Brett Lewis would have you think.

The East Union coach believes there isn’t much separation between his five-loss Lancers and the unbeaten,  defending champion Sierra High Timberwolves.


Sierra owns a one-game lead on Weston Ranch and sits five games up on East Union as the season turns toward the home stretch.

But Lewis realizes what Manteca learned the hard way last week: the Lancers are a much scarier, much more balanced team with Justin Nieto healthy and running on the floor.

The difference in the VOL race to this point, according to Lewis’ metrics, has been Nieto’s ability to rebound the basketball from his point guard position.

The oft-injured senior was good for seven rebounds per game before his season was interrupted by a severely sprained ankle.

Without, East Union averaged just 20 rebounds per game, lost a 55-40 slugfest to Sierra and dropped another two league games by six points or less.

“It’s the rebounding alone,” Lewis said. “With his rebounding, we feel like we win all of those games. We don’t even have to look at his scoring average – strictly his rebounding, the second-chance points and assist-to-turnover ratio. He scoring wouldn’t have even been a thought.”

If only.

The truth is East Union (16-6) is 5-5 going into tonight’s showdown at Sierra, and its emphatic victory over Manteca (6-4) is offset by deflating losses to Sonora (3-7) and Oakdale (2-8).

“We know we’re the fourth seed right now and that hurts a little bit,” Lewis said. “The losses to Oakdale and Sonora hurt a lot. Getting (Nieto) back, and if we can get the team back to where we were before St. Joseph’s, it won’t matter what seed we get. We’re a dangerous team with a lot of weapons.”

That wasn’t always the case during the first round of league play.

Nieto sat out four games and half of another – the loss to Sierra on Jan. 4 – with a twice-sprained right ankle.

To be specific, Nieto had a high inside ankle sprain. He rolled the ankle while trying to tip in a game-tying shot at the buzzer against St. Joseph’s Notre Dame in the final of the Bear Creek Bruin Shootout on Dec. 29.

He aggravated the injury midway through the second quarter against Sierra.

“I’ve never seen one like this,” Lewis said. “Your ankle doesn’t really move toward the inside. So that was weird. The more people I talked, they said it was the worst kind to have. All your explosiveness comes from the inside. It was a painful process.”

Nieto was cautious upon his return to the lineup against Kimball on Jan. 19. He had just three points and 11 rebounds in his first two games, including just one in a shocking 50-48 loss to then-winless Oakdale.

“After losing to Oakdale, I think he mentally checked back in,” Lewis said. “That was big for us. Oakdale was his reality check. It was like, ‘OK, I could do more for us’ and he showed it against Manteca. That game was great for us.”

Nieto needed only to trust his ankle. He had eight points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists against the Buffaloes.

“I’m still trying to trust it. The coaches have been taping it and I have an ankle brace, but there’s that fear,” he said. “It’s your senior year; just (four) games left. You want to play the best that you can, but there’s something in the back of your head.”

That doubt and apprehension is fading, though. He had 10 points in Wednesday’s victory over Lathrop and orchestrated a balanced attack – three others scored in double figures.

“I believe this team had the potential to win every game we played. If you look at that Sierra game, we were in it the whole time. The Weston Ranch game – we had them,” Nieto said.

“Now that I’m back, we’re starting to gel. If we can keep it going, we have great potential.”

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