East Union girls basketball coach Jim Agostini came away encouraged Tuesday after his team’s 58-54 loss to visiting Lincoln of Stockton at Dalben Center.
The Lancers (0-2) were bothered by Lincoln’s length, speed and activity for much of the night but gave themselves a chance to steal the win after trailing by as much as 11.
Down by two with less than 10 seconds remaining, Donja Payne attempted a mid-range jumper over Annalillia Cabuena but her shot grazed off the front of the rim. Julia Delay came up with the defensive rebound and was fouled before converting a pair of free throws that put it away for the Trojans (2-2).
Although East Union had 29 turnovers on the night, the Lancers showed improvement from their 79-58 loss at Atwater.
“We expected a high-pressure game from Lincoln and they provided that for us,” Agostini said. “That’s our second one in a row against two quality teams. I really liked the way the girls competed tonight, especially for the second game of the year. This was a great effort for us.”
Payne led all players with 29 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks. Hailey Gosney contributed nine points, and Vonika Pok tallied six points and seven boards.
East Union has a junior-heavy roster with only the 6-foot-2 Payne having prior varsity experience. Gosney is a fourth-year senior, and the team’s best ball handler, Destiny Torio, is sitting out this month per CIF transfer rules.
“They’re catching on,” Payne said of her inexperienced junior teammates. “Things don’t always go in our favor but they’re still listening to the coaches and keeping their heads high.”
Lincoln was paced by Taylor Low’s 16 points and nine steals. Lauren Garces chipped in 13 points off the bench, and Delay finished with 12 points and five steals. Cabuena, a 6-foot freshman, racked up 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks while combining with Matesn McMiller (eight rebounds, four assists, five steals) and Alexis Pagala to guard Payne.
“It’s always a challenge having multiple people on you, but you just have to toughen up and take it,” Payne said.
Payne scored eight of the Lancers’ final nine points in the first quarter when they took their only leads. Lincoln took over from there thanks to its stifling zone defense. Cabuena gave the Trojans their largest lead at 29-18 with a three-point play.
East Union countered with six unanswered points and did well to stay within striking distance by halftime, 31-24, after turning it over 18 times. Lincoln had just six turnovers over the first two periods.
East Union came back to tie it the fourth quarter. Pok converted an uncontested layup set up by a nice feed from Payne in the post to make it 46-46 with 5:19 remaining. The Lancers had two opportunities to take the lead before Pagala made a layup and Delay drilled a 3-pointer to give Lincoln some breathing room.
Gosney later scored on a baseline drive off an inbounds play to close the Lancers in 55-54 with 18 seconds to go.
“We scrapped and gave ourselves a chance to take the lead,” Agostini said. “This game came down to possessions, and we (struggled) on some defensive rebounds a little bit,” Agostini said. “This is all stuff that can get ironed out as we continue to play these games here in December.”