LATHROP — When Junior Ballard hit his second 3-pointer in 30 seconds Wednesday night to tie East Union, the hometown crowd went wild. Unfortunately for the Spartans, there was still 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Following a timeout, Gyse Hulsebosch took the ensuing inbounds pass for the Lancers and ran the clock down, firing off an NBA-range 3-pointer from the wing that grabbed nothing but net, leaving Lathrop just one second to try to force overtime. The Spartans were unable to convert, and East Union went home with a heart-stopping 79-76 Valley Oak League victory.
“I was just shooting out there,” Hulsebosch said. “It was a crazy game.
“We had to win this one.”
Hulsebosch (six rebounds, two assists) led all scorers with 40 points, scoring 21 in the fourth quarter. Of his five 3-pointers in the second half, four were from well beyond the arc.
“Gyse was phenomenal and Blake (Greenlee) gave us a huge spark inside in the first half, Lancers coach Ryan Tarr said. “He was able to keep us in it when Gyse had foul trouble.”
East Union (6-4 VOL, 14-9 overall) saw an 11-point lead shrink to two in the final three minutes of the first half and thanks to two Lancers turnovers in the final two minutes of the game Lathrop (5-5, 13-10) was able to close a six-point gap to tie the game with Ballard’s second 3-pointer down the stretch.
“We got careless with the ball,” Tarr said. “I think we had 19 turnovers the first time we played them, and we did a much better job on the glass than we did the first time we played them. So we wanted to take care of the ball which for the majority of the game we did, but the couple of stretches we got careless with it they were able to close the gap.”
Greenlee had a 10-point second quarter and finished with a double-double, scoring 18 points with 10 rebounds. Greenlee had a 3-pointer in the first quarter.
“Shooting from the outside gives us more options than with me being down in the post all the time,” Greenlee said. “It makes me kind of like a triple threat and gives Gyse a break every now and then.
“Coming off two losses – one of them a team we should not have lost to in Oakdale – we weren’t playing our best. But this is a big one for playoffs.”
The Lancers shot a sizzling 19 of 21 from the free-throw line while the Spartans were just 10 of 20.
“Again, we leave points on the board with our free throws,” Lathrop coach Craig Ward said. “That has been the bane of our existence this year. And when you can’t know down your free throws, it comes down to this and it shouldn’t have been that close, even if we would have knocked down half of them.
“We still had an opportunity to win it, we should have shut guys down, but he (Hulsebosch) hit that sucker. He was on fire today.”
Ballard (six rebounds, five assists, four steals) led the Spartans with 24 points followed by Michael Mills with 14 points and Dan Ballasteros with 12. Anthony Blase added seven rebounds, five points and three blocks.
Coming into Wednesday’s game, East Union, Lathrop and Weston Ranch were all tied for the third and final guaranteed playoff slot from the VOL with a 5-4 record league record.
“This was a must win for us,” Tarr said. “We have to close out and get wins down the stretch because going 0-2 last week really hurt us.
“We got the win. I am super proud of our guys. Lathrop is a scrappy, tough team and it wasn’t pretty at times.”
Lathrop 61, East Union 56
Isaiah Victor scored 26 points to help the Spartns run their VOL record to 6-4.
Rashawn Ballard added 12 points for Lathrop and Braydon Rollins 10.
Daniel Ruiz led the Lancers with 22 points and Jojo Espinosa chipped in 14.