TRACY — In a championship duel between two teams riding six-game winning streaks, experience, defense and Lani Tu’uga were the difference for East Union on Thursday.
Tu’uga tallied 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, as the Lancers routed Lathrop 54-40 to win the 38th Annual Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins Tournament title at Tracy High’s Swenson Gym.
East Union (10-2) allowed just 28 points in last two tournament games combined, and the effort carried over into the final round when it shot out to an early 10-0 lead with Tu’uga recording the first seven points of the game.
“Two years ago, we lost in the championship so we had to run it back,” Tu’uga said. “We worked really hard as a team for it. We worked really hard on defense and I could tell that we improved a lot from our games previous to this tournament. I feel like it was defense that won this tournament.”
Tu’uga was named the tournament MVP. Taylor Snaer (11 points, six rebounds, five steals) and Lauren Pablo (nine points, five rebounds were also all-tournament selections.
“She’s a special player,” Agostini said of Tu’uga. “Her, Taylor and Lauren, they’re battle tested and they love this game.”
Lathrop (10-4) never led but did well to stay in the game after its early dry spell, answering with a run of its own to close in 14-12 after Kierstin Constantino’s layup. The Spartans also had to overcome an early injury to starting guard Isa Paniagua, who went down with an ankle injury 1 minute, 10 seconds after tipoff.
Lathrop coach Dwayne Davis said it hurt his already-shorthanded squad to lose its “Swiss Army Knife,” but he was pleased with how others stepped up. East Union regained control in the second quarter, using a late 7-0 burst to stretch its lead out to 35-22 at halftime.
The gap grew to as much as 22 in the fourth quarter, 54-32, after a pair of free throws from Pablo, but the Lancers were shut out in the final 4:45.
“I’m proud, they battled their butts off,” Davis said. “They kept fighting and fighting, but the difference was experience. Because we’ve had some illnesses, we’ve had a lot of our younger players have been getting a chance to get a lot of experience in these tournaments.
“When we came here I said we’re going to do something special. They didn’t believe it but I think they know now. They understand that we can play. We’re going to keep getting better.”
Constantino and Paniagua made the all-tourney team. Egypt Jenkins paced the Spartans on Thursday with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Constantino finished with 11 points, hitting two 3s in the opening period. The dangerous outside shooter was limited by East Union’s pressure defense for the rest of the game.
After allowing Mission San Jose’s Haylie Wakayama to bury 10 3s in the first round of the tourney, the Lancers made it a point to try and limit Constantino’s touches.
“You have to respect a player like Constantino, she’s a good player,” Agostini said. “We watched her last night in the semis control the whole game. She demands a lot of attention. She got a couple early and we were able to make her work for the rest of it.”
And so ends the pre-league schedule for both teams. Lathrop begins Western Athletic Conference play at home next Tuesday against Ceres, while East Union has a tough Valley Oak League opener at 9-2 Kimball.
“Lathrop is a good team,” Agostini said. “They’re real young, but you have to expect a good game from them because they’ve had a good start to their season and Dwayne has them playing well. The competition out there was real good tonight, and to see our team perform like we did at this part of the season is refreshing.
“We’re not there yet. We’re satisfied that we won the tournament but there’s a lot of work to do with this group. We’re excited to get back to the gym, get some practice in and we have a huge opening night in the VOL.”
Ripon 32, Downey 30
Ripon (9-5) squeaked it out in the seventh-place team against a Downey (4-5) team it previously downed by 40 a month ago.
Makenzie Loechler and Gabby Delgady led the Indians with eight points and four rebounds apiece. Kaylee Tuggle scored seven points. The team struggled out the gate and trailed 19-13 at halftime before using a 12-2 flurry in the third quarter for the lead.
Manteca 54, Beyer 37
The hobbling Buffaloes (8-3) ended the tournament on a high note.
Missing two starters to injuries, they jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the 11th-place game. Ariel De La O handled point guard duties in place of Marcelina Chaparro (knee), finishing with eight points and eight rebounds. Hailey Kent led the attack with 12 points, and Camrenne Genilla had nine points and seven boards.
Alana Dancer scored 11 points for Beyer (3-6).