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Lancers battle back to beat Buffs, force three-way tie for VOL lead
Manteca High’s Mikayla Hasal, left, and East Union’s Briona Fontenot get tangled up while diving for the loose ball. - photo by HIME ROMERO
East Union girls basketball coach Jim Agostini punched the air with a right cross after Salina Tiscareno’s jumper from the right wing gave the Lancers their first lead, 28-26, with 2:44 left in the third quarter against visiting rival Manteca.

The fight, after a rather sloppy and timid beginning, was finally on.

Staggered early by Manteca’s scrappy defense and its own inability to convert free throws, East Union willed its way to a 53-50 victory Thursday at Dalben Center.

Manteca freshman Tia Tuuga — who had 14 points, eight rebounds and five steals — kept Manteca’s final possession alive with an offensive board, and she rushed to the left corner for a desperation 3-point heave at the buzzer that fell short.

Tiscareno led EU’s second-half charge, scoring 11 of her 13 points. Her go-ahead jump shot punctuated an 11-0 flurry, and she capped the third with a buzzer-beating layup.

Manteca scored the game’s first six points and was up by as much as 11, 20-9 with 2:32 left in the second period. The pace quickened in the fourth quarter after what had been a low-scoring affair, as each team scored 20 points.

“Coach told us at halftime we needed to come out with more intensity,” Tiscareno said. “We had to. This was a big game.”

East Union (5-1, 13-4 overall) — seeking a fifth straight VOL title and sixth in seven years — bounced back from Tuesday’s 46-40 upset defeat up in Sonora and forced a three-way tie for the Valley Oak League lead. Weston Ranch, EU’s next opponent, is a part of that three-team dogfight after beating Sierra Thursday.

 “This program has been successful,” Agostini said. “There are still some VOL championship girls out there and they’re not ready to just hand it over.

“We were definitely on the ropes tonight, and I thought my girls competed like champions that have the heart of a lion. I’m very proud of them.”

The Lancers were definitely motivated to see Manteca (5-1, 14-3).

On the last night of the VOL season last year, East Union was stunned 41-38 by Manteca, which needed a win to guarantee a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth. The Lancers already had the title clinched, but a 32-game home winning streak and postseason positioning were on the line. It was the second win over EU in three meetings for Manteca.

“The girls are tired of hearing Manteca has got their number,” Agostini said. “They don’t have our number. Each time there has been a big game that mattered, whether it’s us clinching a championship or playing a game for first place in the last five years, East Union has won.”

East Union overcame 23 turnovers, an 11-of-23 effort from the free-throw line and a 17-point effort from Manteca standout guard Sharon Washington, who also had five steals and four assists.

Epitomizing the Lancers’ tenacious play was Shalane Jackson. The third-year varsity junior only had seven points, but she grabbed 20 rebounds, blocked three shots and came away with three steals.

Briona Fontenot added 10 points and four assists for EU. Morgan Hulsebosch and Lexy Posz each had nine.

“I always take it upon myself to not let my team down,” Jackson said. “My teammates always push me in practice, so I just try to (perform) my role the best way that I can.”

For Manteca, the loss is a tough one to take mainly because the Buffaloes did nearly everything right throughout; they just couldn’t get the ball to roll their way off the rim on many point-blank layups.

Manteca had to endure two big dry spells on the offensive end — the first lasting 5 minutes, 7 seconds in the first half, and the next one spanned 4:04 during EU’s big third-quarter run.

“We gave it to them,” Manteca coach Andrea Hiatt said. “We had missed opportunities — a few free throws down the stretch, too many easy buckets. I’m not upset at all at how my girls played; they played hard from beginning to end. We executed, we couldn’t finish.”