With its knack for mounting game-changing scoring runs, East Union wasn’t going to stay cold all night on Friday.
Neither was Sierra’s Kendrick Currey.
The Timberwolves managed to build a 10-point halftime lead despite their standout senior guard getting shut out over the first two quarters. Then he chalked up the first 10 points of the second half for his team, finishing with 21 to help Sierra fend off a late comeback charge from Christian Cuevas and the visiting Lancers, 53-47.
“My shot was just off a little bit, so I was just trying to get my teammates involved,” Currey said. “They were playing better than me, but I knew that if I can just get to the free-throw line a few times and see the ball go in I’d get going in the second half. I wasn’t worried.”
He had reason for worry in the fourth quarter as East Union (3-3 Valley Oak League, 12-10 overall) whittled a 14-point deficit down to three. Like Currey, Cuevas was held without a point in the first half but eventually caught fire, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
His 3-pointer from the right wing closed the Lancers in, 45-42. Cuevas later sank two free throws to shrink the gap back down to three, and Lydell King — he scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half — made three from the stripe after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt.
Sierra (2-3, 11-8) put it away in the final minute, with Currey tallying its final six points. He said the Timberwolves were plenty motivated for this pivotal cross-town clash following their “really embarrassing” 78-29 loss at Weston Ranch two nights prior. They also wanted payback for their 2019 home loss to East Union, which rallied from a 15-point deficit and prevailed 54-51 on Dominic Garcia’s buzzer-beating 3.
“When they started coming back that was sitting in the back of my mind and I was thinking, ‘don’t let this happen,’” Currey said. “We just had to put our foot on their throats and retake control of the game.”
David Kakala (five rebounds, two blocks), Zach Curry (nine rebounds, four assists) and Ryan Borgeson contributed eight points each for Sierra, which right back in the mix one of three automatic berths to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Christian Threadgill, a 6-foot-3 forward, was also crucial to the T’wolves’ success Friday, grabbing 15 rebounds to go with his four points. Jesse Ortiz-Martinez came up with five rebounds and three steals in limited time off the bench.
Sierra led 22-12 in the first half and did it with an overwhelming 29-9 advantage on rebounds. It was a 47-29 margin by the end of the game.
“I think this is the first game where I can honestly say we clearly won the boards,” Sierra coach Eddie Morales said. “If we can do that I think we can play with people.”
The rebounding disparity forced the Lancers to come out of their zone defense, which effectively kept Currey from attacking the basket in the first half.
East Union struggled in every facet, which baffled Coach James Ward considering his team came into the contest riding a strong start to league that includes Wednesday’s emotional 67-58 win at Manteca.
“I think we overlooked them, but the bottom line is they handed us our rear ends today,” Ward said. “They outworked us, they outrebounded us, they were way more physical than us, and they got to loose balls. They were just the tougher team.”
Parmbir Khattra chipped in 11 points for East Union and hit three of his team’s nine 3s. His NBA-range bomb in the opening minute of the fourth quarter ignited the late awakening.
Aiding East Union’s cause was Sierra itself — with Cuevas and Co. gaining momentum, the Timberwolves looked to answer each shot immediately instead of working the clock.
“With about 5 minutes or so we had a good lead and I was telling the guys to play defense first and then control the clock,” Morales said. “We still wanted to take great shots, but for a few minutes there we were kind of going too fast. That’s just part of learning.
“I think I have a good group of kids,” he added.” I thought we’d compete at a higher level up this point but we haven't. Getting this win hopefully helps us get more consistency. It’s something we can build on going forward.”
East Union 50, Sierra 38
The visiting Lancers broke away in the second half after leading 18-16 at the break. Alex Cuevas led them with 23 points.