LATHROP — With four transfers playing just their second game of the season on Friday, Lathrop is beginning to show what it’s capable of.
All 13 Spartans who suited up played significant minutes, and 11 of them scored in a 69-61 win over East Union. They led by as much as 23, 60-37 with 4 minutes remaining, before the visiting Lancers (0-2 Valley Oak League, 4-11 overall) staged a late comeback to make it respectable.
“We’re getting better and these guys are starting to get acclimated to team play,” Lathrop coach Craig Ward said. “A really good gauge of where we’re at is this Wednesday.”
That’s when his Spartans (1-1, 4-10) head to upstart Weston Ranch (2-0, 10-3).
On Friday, Dafford McKenzie, an athletic 6-foot-2 wing who transferred from Sacramento High, spearheaded the Spartans’ balanced scoring with 12 points and six rebounds. Isaiah Victor contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Amiel Adams chipped in 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Lathrop looked to capitalize on its depth and speed by pushing the tempo throughout. The Spartans began to gain separation with nine unanswered points to start the quarter, giving them a 21-11 lead. They led 32-21 at halftime after East Union’s Drew Sena (15 points, four steals) drained an off-balanced 3-pointer from long range at the buzzer.
“If they all commit to this defense that we want to hang our hats on we can be a lot better than we are,” Ward said. “We have enough players to go deep into it and just run until their tongues are hanging out. … Our offense is predicated on how well we can play defense. We want our identity to be a tenacious defending team.”
Lathrop further widened the gap in the third quarter, outscoring East Union 17-9 despite committing nine turnovers — a product of the break-neck pace set by the Spartans, Ward said.
The Lancers, who were without leading scorer and rebounder Blake Greenlee (ankle) for a fourth straight game, were led by sophomore Christian Cuevas’ 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals. They were able to keep pace at the start but struggled with rebounding and sloppy play.
“In the first half we were just taking shots way too quick,” East Union coach Ryan Tarr said. “They weren’t falling and that just played right into their hands. We tried to get them to slow it down and attack the basket. They fouled us 18 times in the second half because we were attacking. We wanted to do that in the first half we just settled for bad shots. I feel like we could have taken advantage of their aggressiveness on defense and make them pay at the line. It ended up costing us.”
East Union made it interesting in the end. JoJo Espinosa sparked the late comeback and got his team to within nine, 62-53, after converting a 3-point play with 1:23 remaining. He finished with 14 points after going scoreless in the first half, 10 of them coming in the fourth period.
“We want him to be more aggressive,” Tarr said.
East Union 56, Lathrop 39
Lane Cefalu exploded for 24 points and the Lancers rolled to victory. Ethan Godoy and Fernando Duran contributed nine and seven points, respectively.