Kayla Wilson let fly with a right-handed floater and then tumbled out of bounds as the buzzer sounded.
Through the glass backboard and from her knees, the Sierra High freshman watched the ball glance off the rim and disappear into a mess of arms.
Two teams playing for their proverbial playoff lives delivered gripping theatre on Tuesday night, keeping a rivalry crowd in suspense until the end.
East Union won this battle of baby-faced future stars 48-47 after nearly blowing an eight-point lead in the second half.
Freshman point guard Olivia Vezaldenos drove the Lancers with 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and anchored East Union’s man-to-man defense down the stretch.
Her orders: Don’t give Wilson – the Timberwolves’ dead-eye shooter – any open looks.
She did her job, preserving the victory by forcing Wilson away from the bucket on the game’s final possession.
Vezaldenos also swatted a fastbreak layup by Wilson with less than three minutes to go, protecting an ever-shrinking lead.
“Sierra played a good game and hit a lot of key shots late,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “I just thought our team executed just enough at the end.”
Wilson finished with a game-high 15 points and was 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. Center Valeria Nestor had 14 points and 23 rebounds for the Timberwolves.
Sierra coach Stephan Unterholzner drew up the final shot during a timeout with 8.8 seconds left.
Wilson had been the Timberwolves’ best player in the fourth quarter. Her free throws coupled with an assist to Celine Barber pulled Sierra to within one, 46-45 with 1:17 left.
“We were going for a drive, hoping for the foul or the bucket. We didn’t get the foul,” Unterholzner said, “but we had the ball in the right player’s hands.”
The victory gives East Union (4-8 Valley Oak League, 8-14) hope in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff race – not that Agostini’s girls are even aware of their seeding.
The Lancers came into the game ranked 17th in the latest Division III power ratings, one spot removed from a postseason berth.
Though East Union is saddled by one of the division’s weakest league power ratings, every victory improves their chances of making a 13th consecutive postseason appearance.
“This is a young team. We haven’t told them anything about the 12 years in a row that we’ve made the playoffs,” Agostini said. “This team is still learning to win. This team is still trying to win single games.”
Sierra could have used a victory on Tuesday. The loss could prove costly for the fading Timberwolves, seeded 19th in the D-III release.
The Timberwolves have lost three of their last four and slipped to 3-8 in Valley Oak League play and 7-16 overall.
“Every game is like a playoff game from here on out,” Unterholzner said. “The girls showed a lot of heart and didn’t give up.”
East Union 45, Sierra 23
Anna Wood had 14 points and Sia Alexander finished with 11 for East Union (6-5 VOL, 13-8), which seized control of this rivalry game with a 12-4 run in the second quarter.
Haley Silva paced Sierra with 11 points and eight rebounds, while Kristen Maestretti had six points and eight rebounds.
Sierra 47, East Union 45
Sierra scored the game-winning bucket with 2 seconds left and then stopped East Union’s final possession with a steal.
Devi Coglio had 15 points, including 10 in the first half, but it was the play of Trayana Davis late that proved pivotal.
Davis scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter.
Isabella Cardenas had 14 points and Lindsey Jordan 11 for East Union.