TRACY — Fresh off his team’s best win of the season, so far, coach Jim Agostini thinks East Union’s girls basketball team is only beginning to peak with four games left in the regular season.
The reigning Valley Oak League champion Lancers now stand alone at the top of the standings after outlasting Kimball on Tuesday, 60-51.
“The trend for this team has been going that way,” Agostini said. “We’ve just been gradually getting better with each league game.”
The “big three” of Taylor Snaer, Nylah Dyson and Donnese Payne keyed their ninth-straight victory with emerging wing Ava Barrera pitching in. Snaer led all scorers with 23 points to go with seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. Her 17 points in the first half buoyed the Lancers (6-0 VOL, 19-4 overall) after a shaky start in which Kimball (5-1, 18-3) leapt ahead, 11-3.
East Union closed the opening period with an 8-0 run, six points coming from Snaer. The Lancers took a 25-23 lead with 2:31 left in the second quarter after Snaer’s conventional three-point play and never trailed the rest of the way.
“Like any other game, we just wanted it,” Snaer said. “We worked hard for it. We have the competitiveness in us where we wanted it that bad. We didn’t want to lose. We’re both No. 1, and we knew (what was on the line).”
The 6-foot Payne took control of the paint after Kimball grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. East Union wound up dominating the glass, 44-30. Payne pulled down 17 rebounds and had 12 points.
“I had to get it together,” Payne said. “I felt like in the first half, I wasn’t doing my best. I thought about my team and I just went for it.
East Union’s guards looked to involve their center from the start and continued to feed Payne in the post despite her missing a few layups early on. In the second half, Snaer and Dyson found her for three layups. Payne capped EU scoring with 1:17 left in the game, scoring on a put-back off a Snaer miss in transition for the largest lead of the game, 60, 47.
“We know they’re coming out on the 3-point shooters, so it’s an easy dump pass to her,” Snaer said. “She’s always there for us.”
The freshman duo of Dyson and Barrera also had big moments. Dyson struggled with her shot in the first half and did not make a field goal until the second half when she poured in 10 of her 17 points, including three 3s.
“Sometimes, you just gotta let the freshman go,” Agostini said. “As a coach, you can get frustrated, but you gotta instill confidence in her and we do. We just said to keep stroking it — shooters shoot. She’s been knocking it down all year, for the most part.”
After bringing down just one rebound in the first half, Barrera made her presence felt in the second half and finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
“Once we got settled in at the start of the game, the girls just played good,” Agostini said. “The defense was good and we got a little better with the rebounding. The matchup was tough for both teams. They have shooters, but we felt that we had something with Donnese down low.”
Kimball has its own freshman phenom in Emma Coronado, who scored 18 points. Marianthe Tsirelas contributed 13 points, and Caiya Sims added eight points, nine rebounds, three assists, five steals and two blocks.
Four Jaguars were in foul trouble for much of the night. East Union made them pay at the free-throw line, making 16 of 21 attempts. Kimball was just 3-for-9.
“This is a great win for the program,” Agostini said. “It just puts us in a nice spot. We haven’t won anything, but we just have to keep moving forward in this quick, 10-game VOL season. In a couple weeks, we’ll see them again.”
The Lancers will next play Oakdale at home Thursday.