East Union put a disappointing loss behind it on Wednesday, holding off a late charge from rival Sierra to prevail 53-47 behind the productive post tandem of Donja Payne and Ala Tuuga.
Payne, a 6-foot-3 senior, was slowed by foul trouble but still finished with 14 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks. The freshman Tuuga added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Sierra sophomore Inessa Villanueva led all scorers with 19 points, including four 3-pointers.
“Donja is Donja,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “When she’s on the court she’s a difference maker.”
Last Friday, his Lancers (8-3, 17-9 overall) were still in the running for the Valley Oak League championship but took a 54-50 overtime loss at Weston Ranch. Now they’ll look to be spoilers themselves, as they play host to first-place Manteca in the regular-season finale Friday night.
“You have to come out and play hard every night in the VOL, especially when you’re on the road,” Agostini said. “The hardest thing to do is to beat a team three times in the same season.
“It’s already a rivalry game and our girls got a little extra motivation from quotes in the paper — they said they wanted to come out and upset us,” he added. “We didn’t want the upset, and the girls did a great job, for the most part. I think they showed they’re the better team.”
East Union won 58-52 in its previous league showdown against the Timberwolves (3-8, 13-12). They also met in the consolation final of the Tracy Breakfast Lions Tournament over winter break, with the Lancers cruising, 48-30.
“We’re pretty happy with it,” said second-year Sierra coach Larissa Founts-Bergerson, an East Union alumna who is pleased with the progress of her program. “We know in the years to come we’re coming up.”
The margin could have been much wider if not for Sierra’s usual second-half surge. East Union broke away from what started out as a back-and-forth struggle with a 13-1 run and led 30-14 at halftime. The Timberwolves were held scoreless for the first 5 minutes, 4 seconds of the second quarter while making just two of 10 free throws in the opening half.
“I think it would have been a different game if we made free throws,” Founts-Bergerson said. “Fourteen for 32 from the line isn’t going to do it.”
Villanueva helped make things interesting for Sierra. She buried two straight 3s from the left wing for the Timberwolves’ first points in the second half, when they were able to dwindle an 18-point deficit down to five. Jordan Hayter made a 3 to close Sierra in 45-40 with 2:52 remaining. The sophomore guard finished with seven points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
East Union made five of its next six free throws to ice it.
“She’s the real deal as a shooter,” Founts-Bergerson said of Villanueva. “She’s comfortable shooting from the wings even if she’s three steps back. As a sophomore she’s still a baby, and we have a lot of players we can develop over the next couple years. We’re looking ahead and planning for the next couple years, but as far as tonight we’re not disappointed.”
Raiann Prieto chipped in 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals for the T’wolves, and Natalie Dias scrapped for 10 rebounds and four steals.
East Union senior guard Nina Murphy played a part in keeping Sierra at bay. She made three great passes to Tuuga for easy buckets on fastbreak opportunities in the fourth quarter, ending up with eight points and four assists.
“That’s a senior playing comfortable,” Agostini said. “You play right into her hands giving her the ball in the open court. Nina’s very comfortable with that, where she can go left, right, use up the drag dribble to set up the pass. She does a great job, and I’m proud of her and the whole team for how they played tonight.”