LATHROP — In a showcase of underclassmen on the rise, win-starved Lathrop went to a third-year senior in the closing seconds of its Valley Oak League contest with East Union on Tuesday.
Lathrop coach Nathan McGrath drew up two plays to counter the Lancers’ defense and both were designed to have the ball in 6-foot-2, 215-pound Isaiah Ellis’ hands for the final shot.
“I don’t care what anyone says, he’s the toughest to guard in the league one-on-one,” McGrath said.
Tied at 61-61, Ellis inbounded the ball with 13.2 seconds remaining and got it back on the left wing. He immediately attacked and converted the winning layup with 2.5 seconds to go. Arvind Singh’s halfcourt 3-pointer bounced off the backboard, and Lathrop held on for just its second victory of the season, 63-61.
“Feels good,” said Ellis, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. “It’s been frustrating but we’ve stuck to it and continued working hard in practice.”
Lathrop is now 1-2 in the VOL and 2-15 overall but the feeling around here is that the Spartans on the up and up. The addition of freshman Junior Ballard is a big reason why.
Ballard, a 6-1 guard, made his season debut Tuesday and proved worthy of a starting spot on the varsity squad. He had four assists in the first quarter alone and ended up with 18 points. Perhaps more impressively, he held East Union sophomore sensation Gyse Hulsebosch to just eight points.
“Having another scorer, another option, opens up everything for this team,” McGrath said. “It’s a huge difference having Junior. He guarded Gyse all night and did a tremendous job. He doesn’t just bring the offense, he plays both sides.”
Ballard also makes Lathrop deeper. The Spartans were minus usual starter Yancy Ram (sprained ankle), while Avraj Bal played sick. Bal still left his mark on the game, contributing eight points, 10 rebounds and three assists while providing energy off the bench.
Reserve guard Deshawn Kelley and Bal combined for the game’s most exciting play early in the fourth. Kelley drew the East Union defense and dished it to Bal in the post with an accurate behind-the-back pass to give Lathrop a 54-50 lead with 6:33 remaining.
“I’ve been telling this team that we are at our best when we spread the floor and pass it around and to always expect the ball when someone is driving to the basket,” McGrath said.
He was also right about limiting East Union’s efficiency from behind the 3-point arc. The Lancers (0-3, 6-10), who have dropped five straight, buried seven 3s in the first half — three each from Arvind Singh and Austin Miller — but were limited to one over the final two periods.
East Union led 38-31 at halftime, but Lathrop opened the third with an 11-3 run.
Singh and Miller both finished with 12 points, sophomore Chris Molina chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds and Hulsebosch registered six steals and five assists to go with his eight points.
“I told them at halftime that if you limit them to three 3s in the second half you win the game,” McGrath said. “That was huge because that’s their game. When they’re hitting 3s they are a tough team to beat.”
He also said his Spartans are now a tougher out as they play out the remainder of the competitive VOL schedule.
“This changes thing,” McGrath said. “I feel that we can play with just about anybody out there with this group of guys. I know our record is what it is but there is some talent here and still some room to improve.”
Lathrop 51, East Union 48
The Spartans trailed by 11 with 2 minutes to go before closing with a 14-0 flurry and a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
Michael Mills tied it with a baseline jumper, and Isias Hunter put Lathrop (1-2) up for good with two free throws with 9.2 seconds left. Hunter and Mills finished with nine points apiece. Idowu Olaleye, who sealed the win with an offensive rebound, poured in 14 points to lead the way. Adonis Payton contributed 11.
The Lancers were paced by Daljit Sihota’s 19 points and Angel Sena’s 10.
East Union 44, Lathrop 42
Blake Greenlee and Drew Sena pumped in 12 points each to lead triumphant East Union.
Michael Ballard turned in 15 points for Lathrop, and Colin Weis chipped in 11.