With about six minutes left in the third quarter, Jim Agostini called a timeout and did something he rarely ever does.
East Union’s mild-mannered coach stomped his foot on the hardwood, and with a furrowed brow and laser-like stare, demanded his girls pick up the defensive energy against their crosstown rival Sierra.
The Lancers responded with a 14-4 run to pull away from the pesky Timberwolves, 51-34, in a pivotal Valley Oak League game for both teams.
Sierra had cut East Union’s lead to one, 27-26, on Alison Edward’s second 3-pointer when Agostini changed the course of the game with a dress shoe and a few pointed demands.
“Whenever he gets on us like that it lets us know that he means business,” captain Olivia Vezaldenos said. “That we need to get our heads in the game.”
Vezaldenos continued her second-half resurgence with a game-high 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting. She also had five assists and two blocked shots for the Lancers, who have won five of their last six games to remain in the hunt for a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
The reigning All-Area MVP is averaging 20 points in the five league games since the Lancers lost 52-49 to Manteca.
“She did this last year. There’s just something about her DNA and her competitiveness,” Agostini said. “… She’s in a nice little groove and it’s a good time.”
East Union enters the final three games of the season tied with Manteca for the Valley Oak League’s third and final playoff spot.
As fate would have it, the two teams meet on Thursday at Winter Gym in what amounts to a winner-take-all.
The Buffaloes were run into submission by Weston Ranch on Tuesday, 52-38.
“(The season) started to be a meat grinder the night after the last time we played Manteca,” Agostini said. “We knew the situation we were in. We couldn’t slip in games against Oakdale, Lathrop, Central and Sierra. We talked about it as a team. There were four games we needed to make sure we played well and won, so that we could get back to this game.”
East Union will take on the Buffaloes with a full complement of weapons.
Center Rena Dragony returned to the lineup with a double-double. The 6-foot-1 senior had missed more than a month with injury, but showed no rust against the Timberwolves.
Dragony finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. She stood tallest during East Union’s decisive third-quarter run, scoring four quick points to stretch the lead to seven 33-26.
Kristen Maestretti answered with a spinning layup at the other end, but Sierra wouldn’t score again for another three minutes.
East Union, on the other hand, would have no such problems. The Lancers attacked the rim, softening Sierra’s low post with each possession.
Anna Wood darted through the lane for a layup. Destiny Flores pulled away on a fast-break. Vezaldenos knocked down two free throws after getting bumped on a drive. And tiny guard Ruby Dauby found space among the big bodies.
Before Sierra could catch its breath, East Union had carved out a 41-28 advantage.
Martha Spivey said her team was literally huffing and puffing on the floor. Guards Keanna Barber and Kayla Wilson battled through flu-like symptoms for a Sierra side already missing top defender Haley Silva (broken wrist).
It was all the Timberwolves could do just to keep pace with East Union for 2 ½ quarter. Sierra did so by attacking the glass with Maestretti and speeding up the tempo of the game.
Edwards scored seven of her 10 points in the first half and Maestretti (eight points) had four points and five rebounds in the early going.
“We came out here shorthanded. We lost Haley Silva to a broken wrist, Keanna (was sick), Kayla can’t breathe and we had four girls in gray. I don’t know if we ran out of steam or what, but I think it finally caught up to us,” Spivey said. “Adrenaline pushes you only so far through not being able to breathe and that kind of stuff.”
East Union 56, Sierra 28
Nine of the 12 players on East Union’s roster scored, highlighting a one-sided victory.
Alenna Haena led all scorers with 14 points. DeJohna Pryor had 12, while Faith Stofferhan and Kassandra Avila netted eight apiece for the Lancers, now 7-4 and 14-8 overall.
“The girls got after it tonight,” East Union coach Rich Posz said, “which was good to see.”
Sierra was led by Lindsey Walljasper, who finished with 12 points.
East Union also won a low-scoring affair in the freshman game, defeating Sierra 17-15.