A spot-up shooter with a spot of blood on his cheek gave East Union a victory it desperately needed.
Lucas Garcia knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and the Lancers snapped a two-game losing streak to start Valley Oak League play, grounding the high-flying Lathrop Spartans on Tuesday with a 51-44 victory.
Garcia finished with 14 points on four 3-pointers and backcourt mate Andrew Ruiz also had 14 points, including two free throws with 17 seconds left as East Union handed its first league loss.
Garcia might be 5-foot-6 with his Mohawk, but he’s quickly developing a reputation as a big-time performer late in games.
“That’s not the first game that he’s hit a big 3. There have been three or four games where he’s hit a big shot in the fourth quarter that has put us up or brought us back,” East Union coach Ryan Tarr said. “He’s done that all year for us.”
The Lancers (1-2, 8-6) overcame a nine-point deficit at the half with a smothering halfcourt defense and an offense that gobbled up points in bunches. East Union forced 14 turnovers and connected on four 3-pointers in the second half.
“It didn’t go our way (in the first half) so we had to change it,” Garcia said. “Intensity, hustle, getting on the floor – it’s just working harder than the other team
“The first win feels good. Now we have to keep it going. Take this win as a positive and keep it going.”
With hands on his hips, Lathrop coach Nathan McGrath chalked the loss up to growing pains. Though they might be the area’s most talented team, the Spartans Lathrop (2-1, 9-6) are still searching for a cohesion and chemistry on the floor.
“(The offense) stalled,” McGrath said. “We decided to play catch around the perimeter and not feed the ball inside. We had both their bigs in foul trouble; had both of them sitting on the bench and we couldn’t take advantage.
“We got complacent in the second half and that’s the way this league is. This league is too close, too tight knit in terms of talent to let up.”
For the second time in three Valley Oak League games, the Spartans turned the ball over nine times in the final quarter. Lathrop survived against Manteca in their opener, but its sloppy play cost it a chance to remain atop the standings with defending champion Sierra High.
Lathrop managed just six points in the fourth.
The Spartans struggled mightily from all areas of the court. Point guard Nilo Yuson missed two transition layups as Lathrop went scoreless for more than four minutes to start the fourth quarter.
Trailing 47-44 and set up with the final shot, Nicholaus Obazuaye took an ill-advised 3-pointer with 21 seconds left. The shot caromed off the backboard and the side of the rim and was eventually corralled by an East Union defender.
Obazuaye led the Spartans with 14 points, but got little help from the rest of Lathrop’s guards. Yuson and Isaiah Ellis were held scoreless, while Mykhail Redman (eight points) had just one field goal after a game-opening 3. Forward T.J. Conley had 12 points for the Spartans.
“We look great at times and then we look so beatable it’s ridiculous,” McGrath said. “They haven’t learned to play together and they haven’t completely learned to trust their big guys inside.”
East Union’s guards were dynamic down the stretch, rescuing a frontcourt mired in foul trouble. Forward Clay Cuneo had nine points and 10 rebounds, while 6-foot-6 center Jake Danhoff had seven points.
But the little guys shouldered the load.
Garcia started to find his stroke at the end of the second quarter, knocking down a 3-pointer to snap East Union’s four-minute drought from the floor. He and Ruiz connected on 3s in the third quarter as the Lancers twice took the lead in the final minute.
Fifteen of East Union’s 18 third-quarter points came via a 3-pointer or traditional three-point play.
Garcia provided the knockout blow – a classic 1-2 punch – drilling 3s from opposite sides of the court on back-to-back possessions. The first pushed the Lancers into the lead for good, 42-40 with 2:51 left.
The next created separation.
“It just felt good,” he said of his rhythm on the final two shots.
Garcia had to retreat to the bench in the final minute with a cut on his right cheek. Blood trickled down his face and onto his jersey.
The coaching staff tossed him a new jersey, allowing the junior to finish a victory he helped create.
“He hits big shots at big times when we need it,” Tarr said of his diminutive junior.
East Union 53,
Gyse Hulsebosch led three East Union (2-1, 11-4) players in double figures with 24 points. Austin Miller had 15 and Eric Flores 10.
Isaiah Ware led Lathrop with 10 points.
East Union 64,
East Union (3-0, 14-0) kept its season-long win streak intact.
PJ Gill scored 15 points, Scott Morenzone had 13 and Delvon Bradford finished with 10.