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EUs perfect streak ends at 16
Cougars overcome late deficit in stunner
Weston Ranch’s Jazmin Strane and East Union’s Rachel O’Neal get tangled up in the post while scrapping for a rebound. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
WESTON  RANCH — Perhaps the young Cougars of Weston Ranch are too naive to understand that they’re not supposed to beat an undefeated team that is aiming to win its third straight Valley Oak League title.

And nobody told freshman center Jazmin Strane that freshman centers aren’t supposed to make pressure-packed free throws with precious seconds left on the clock.

But on Thursday, it was Weston Ranch that looked as if it had been there, done that.

Courtney Duran hit two key 3-pointers from the right corner in crunch-time, and Strane later sank two free throws with 10.1 seconds left to ice the Cougars’ shocking 48-44 come-from-behind victory over previously undefeated East Union.

Strane was able to compose herself after drawing the fifth foul on East Union freshman forward Shalane Jackson. Following the minute-long break, Strane broke from the team huddle and even giggled as she toed the line.

“In the huddle we were just kind of focused and tried to keep everything together, but it wasn’t anything that messed up my concentration,” said Strane, who finished with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks. “I just went up there and thought about going through my normal routine and made them.”

Duran displayed the same unwavering confidence as she fired in her threes without hesitation — the first with 1:57 left to tie it at 43-all, and the next with 32 seconds remaining to leapfrog the Cougars ahead 46-44 lead.

“Coach set up the play for me and asked which side I wanted to shoot from,” she said. “I came out and said, ‘right there.’ I was very confident with the shots I took.”

DeArbia Gardner intercepted a pass on East Union’s next possession to set up Strane’s game-clinching free throws. Gardner also gave the Cougars their first lead of the game with a jumper from the right wing 45 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The Lancers answered with a 10-2 run and appeared to regain control of the game while up 42-35 at the midway point of the period.

Weston Ranch sophomore point guard Timnesha Wilson jump started the comeback with a step-back 3-pointer at the top of the arc and a pair of free throws just 26 seconds later.

She finished with 17 points, five assists and four steals.

Weston Ranch’s late charge was preceded by an even bigger one. With two starters sitting for disciplinary reasons, the Cougars trailed 17-4 after the first but managed to chisel their way back into it.

Duran’s coast-to-coast layup off her own steal closed Weston Ranch in 24-18 with two seconds left in the opening half.

“Every single game we play hard,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Bauer said. “Whether it’s East Union or Central Valley tonight, the kids will play hard every minute. We never give in.”

Duran finished with eight points, as did Amber Bell, who added six rebounds and three steals.

Ashley Rose paced East Union with 15 points and four steals.

Rachel McDaniel, the league’s reigning MVP, had 12 points and 10 steals (nine in the first half) but was forced to sit most of the second half with foul trouble.

Center Rachel O’Neal contributed six points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.

“Tip your hat to Weston Ranch,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “Like I said coming in, I knew they were going to play their best game. You have to expect that, especially on the road in the VOL.”

As for the amazing winning streak to start the season, the loss may serve as a weight lifted off the Lancers’ shoulders. But with its other Manteca Unified rivals, Manteca and Sierra, next on the schedule, East Union (3-1, 16-1 overall) doesn’t have much time to recover.

The defeat forced a three-way tie for first with Oakdale and Sonora, while Weston Ranch (2-2, 12-5) jumps back into the mix after a rough start to the regular season.

“It is something to be proud of,” Agostini said. “It was a great run. The good news is that the season is not over, and we’re still tied for first.

“There’s still work to be done and we have more rivals to face. It’s the VOL — it’s the way the league should be.”