Lathrop High coach Craig Ward noted Friday that defense is his team's identity.
It's what separates his Spartans from the others Western Athletic Conference.
Lathrop (7-1 WAC, 15-5) played "tenacious defense" against visiting Ceres, but only in spurts while managing an 83-70 victory.
"You can't ease off the Bulldogs. They'll come right back," said Ward, whose team entered the game tied with Beyer and Mountain House for the top spot in the WAC.
It was defense that jump-started the Spartans in taking a 12-0 a few minutes after the opening tip. Daniel Whaley had an and-one 3-pointer, CJ Ward scored on transition, Walton Whaley busted one from beyond the arc, and Ward, who fed Daniel Whaley for two, scored off a steal.
Easing off the throttle, Lathrop — ahead comfortably at the half, 51-34 — allowed Ceres (1-7 WAC, 7-15) to climb back in the game.
"We couldn't score at all," said Ward, as the Bulldogs reeled off 14 unanswered points spearheaded by Shimon Malakhi's four-point play (he was fouled after sinking the trey).
And just like that, the Spartans saw their sizable lead shrink to five, 53-48.
Ahead 63-46 at the start of the fourth, Lathrop went back to playing strong defense. Walton Whaley, on the fast break, delivered a pass to Eddie Cotton for an easy basket.
Cotton, who finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and a steal, took a pass from Daniel Whaley for the dunk in the second quarter.
Daniel Whaley had a team-high 24 points to go with his four steals. Walton Whaley chipped in with 22.
Ward also had four steals.
Samar Singh of Ceres led all scorers with 25 points. Verlis Smith had 19 and Komavong Andrew chipped in with 10.
East Union 58, Oakdale 39
OAKDALE — Parm Khattra paced the Lancers past the host Mustangs, scoring a game-high 26 points.
The 5-foot-11 senior guard was once again deadly from the outside, hitting five 3s in the Valley Oak League clash.
Christian Cuevas hit three 3s while finishing with 13 points.
East Union (4-3 VOL, 13-10) led 23-16 at the break, added to that while claiming 36-23 advantage after three quarters.
Oakdale (0-7 VOL, 11-11) lost an earlier meeting to the Lancers, who will host Sierra on Wednesday.
Sierra 62, Kimball 58
TRACY — The Timberwolves pulled out an important VOL contest against the Jaguars.
"We needed this one," said Sierra coach Eddie Morales as his team kept pace with the league leaders.
The Timberwolves (3-4 VOL, 12-9) relied on the one-two scoring punch of Kendrick Currey and Zachariah Curry.
Currey, a 6-2 senior guard, netted 18 while the 6-1 junior Curry scored 15.
"This was a physical game," Morales said. "We had the lead but couldn't pull away."
Kimball (2-5 VOL, 10-13) led 17-14 after one quarter. Sierra went ahead after that, claiming a 28-27 lead at the intermission.
Central Catholic 56, Manteca 48
The Buffaloes led early on against the top team in the VOL.
They kept the Raiders to just five points in the first quarter.
Central Catholic bounced back by outscoring Manteca (3-4 VOL, 10-13) to take a 22-20 halftime lead.
The Buffaloes kept it close in the third, but was outscored 15-9 in the fourth by Central Catholic (7-0 VOL, 16-7).