East Union High opened the new campaign Tuesday with a hard-fought 66-62 victory over Atwater.
Down the stretch of a close battle, Ruby Daube and Donja Payne came up big. Daube found Payne down low for a turnaround basket and later iced the game with a pair of free throws.
Payne, the sophomore center, also had a put-back of a missed shot right after the Falcons had pulled to within a basket at the 1:15 mark of the final quarter.
“It came down to our two All-(Valley Oak) League players to come through for us with the game on the line,” said Lancers coach Jim Agostini.
Daube finished with a game-high 24 points while Payne had 17 points and 17 rebounds.
Hailey Gosney chipped in with 13 for East Union, hitting on an impressive 11 of 12 shooting from the foul line.
The Lancers (1-0) were not anything like last year’s Valley Oak League champions early on.
“This was definitely a first game for us,” Agostini said.
Atwater (0-1) not only controlled the boards but forced the action at the outset.
East Union committed a rash of turnovers, including a pair of steals leading to quick buckets by Kelsey Valencia and Lexi Valencia to kick off this non-league affair at the Dalben Center.
Daube appeared hobbled with an injury only to come back midway through the second quarter.
Despite it all, East Union stayed in the game with some steady free-throw shooting.
Gosney was 8 for 8 from the line in the first half. The Lancers were 17 of 21 on free throws, with Daube, Payne, DeJohna Pryor, and Jessica Pablo contributing.
“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice,” Agostini added.
That was enough to even the game at the half, 27-27.
The second half resembled that of the beginning part of the game, with the Falcons converting turnovers into quick buckets.
Kelsey Valencia and Lexi Valencia, sophomore twins for Atwater, did most of the damage, finishing with 16 and 13, respectively.
Jasmine Xiong and Alondra Ponce also frustrated East Union throughout most of the game.
“Hats off to Atwater — that’s a quick and fast team,” said Agostini.
The Lancers received a boost off the bench from Jenna Zuniga, who returned to the hardwood after playing soccer the previous two years. She had seven points.