OAKDALE – It was about this time last year that Olivia Vezaldenos and the East Union girls basketball team began their playoff push.
Don’t look now.
Vezaldenos topped the 20-point mark for the second night in a row and the Lancers stretched their win streak to three by jumping on Oakdale early in a 50-36 victory.
East Union started the game on a 13-4 run and then outscored the Mustangs 25-17 in the second half to remain in the hunt for one of the Valley Oak League’s three Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths.
“We asked the team, ‘What do we need to do to get off to better starts?’” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “The girls had some suggestions and we were up for it. It was good to see us get off to a good start.”
The Lancers are 5-3 and playing some of their best ball with one of the section’s darlings on deck. East Union hosts Kimball (8-0, 21-0) on Tuesday.
“They’re the defending league champs and you look forward to that challenge,” Agostini said. “They’re playing great ball right now and it would be nice for somebody to knock them off. It would be even better if it was us.”
While the unbeaten Jaguars remain the prohibitive favorite, Vezaldenos’ recent run of success gives the Lancers hope.
The reigning All-Area MVP scored a game-high 26 points, the benefit of better shot selection. She was 7 of 13 from inside the 3-point line and 6 of 7 at the charity stripe. She also had three assists and three rebounds.
Agostini was happy to see Vezaldenos attacking the basket instead of settling for long-range jumpers.
“She was going games without getting to the free-throw line,” he said. “Tonight, she got to the foul line.”
Anna Wood’s streak of double-doubles came to an end. She had 12 points and seven rebounds. Ruby Dauby had seven points and Jessica Pablo finished with four for East Union, now 14-6 on the season.
Vezaldenos was a catalyst in East Union’s playoff push a season ago. The Lancers started VOL play with losses in four of their first six games, but won five straight games following a loss to Kimball to clinch a Division III berth.
East Union may need to duplicate those efforts. The Lancers are fourth in the standings, one game back of Manteca.
“We’re playing solid ball right now,” Agostini said. “We just keep pushing the girls and keep demanding, and they keep buying into what we’re trying to do and what we want to achieve.”
Central Catholic 43
Loretta Kakala had 20 points and 18 rebounds, but defense carried the surging Buffaloes.
Central Catholic trailed by just four at the half, but Manteca pulled away with an 18-6 burst in the third quarter.
Fechi Nkwocha, Leah Manuleleua and Rubel Dehal each had steals in the third that led to quick points.
“It was like the light turned on,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said.
Lejla Pepic had 13 points, Manuleleua had nine points, six rebounds and five steals, and Lizzy Tolbert finished with five points and six rebounds.
The Buffaloes (6-2, 14-7) have won four straight.
Danielle Friedrich had a game-high 24 points for the Raiders.
Kimball 58, Sierra 31
In Tracy, Sierra slowed down the pace of the game and put Kimball in a position few – if any – have all season.
Through eight minutes, the unbeaten Jaguars trailed the Timberwolves, 11-10.
Kristen Maestretti and Keanna Barber were key cogs in Sierra’s fast start, netting four points apiece.
“We took them out of their running game. We literally made the easy passes (against their press), took care of the ball and got them out of their rotations,” Sierra coach Martha Spivey said. “If they scored, they had to set up in the half-court.
“We didn’t allow any transition points at all.”
It worked for a quarter. Kimball eventually wore down the Timberwolves with their height.
Donwanea Anthony led all scorers with 18 points. Allison Schmidt had 16.
East Union 35
In Oakdale, the Lancers left this one at the free-throw line.
East Union (12-6) converted just 10 of its 30 attempts from the charity stripe to fall to 5-3 in VOL play.
Alaina Haena paced the Lancers with 10 points, while Marcella Salyer had nine.
Central Catholic 30
Sierra Leyba had 18 points and 14 rebounds, Kayla Holmes netted 12 points, and JJ Santos finished with six points and 10 rebounds for the Buffaloes.
Kimball 51, Sierra 31
In Tracy, Sierra got key contributions from Lindsey Walljasper (12 points) and Vanessa Padilla (nine) in the loss.