LATHROP — After starting the game on the bench, East Union’s Olivia Vezaldenos ended it in the zone.
The Lancers’ standout point guard scored 20 points in her three quarters of action Wednesday, including eight in the fourth that helped the visitors escape with a 52-36 victory over Lathrop. Her 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 2:48 remaining sparked an 11-0 closing run.
The Spartans (1-2 Valley Oak League, 7-6 overall) exerted a spirited effort at the outset and led 11-5 going into the second period. With Vezaldenos watching from the sideline, East Union (3-0, 13-1) was held scoreless until Hailey Gosney made two of three free throws with 3:32 left in the quarter. Donja Payne’s and-one basket with 2:05 to go was the Lancers’ first field goal of the contest.
Payne produced 17 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Myani Thornton led Lathrop with 11 points.
East Union coach Jim Agostini said Vezaldenos, who didn’t check in until a minute, 5 seconds into the second quarter, was benched because “a couple of functions were missed.”
“When you have a four-year starter and they’re not in there you lose a lot of experience,” Agostini said. “As a team and a program we have a lot of expectations of the girls, and responsibility comes with those expectations.”
And expectations are higher for Lathrop under second-year head coach Dwayne Davis. The Spartans previously lost to East Union 44-26 last month in the Tracy Breakfast Lions/Tom Hawkins Tournament, but on Wednesday they were coming off an impressive 52-38 win over Central Catholic.
In the rematch, Lathrop was limited to single digits in each of the last three quarters, but Davis was more disappointed about defensive miscues. The Spartans forced 12 turnovers in the first half but just two in the second, while East Union found ways to get open looks for Payne in the post and Vezaldenos in the perimeter.
“I’ve seen every team in the league enough times to know exactly what they’re running,” Davis said. “When players lose the discipline in what we’re doing it makes it tough on all five defenders. We don’t have a 6-foot-3 post player, so we have to stay focused for all 32 minutes.”
And Davis isn’t taking solace in what his Spartans were able to accomplish for the first eight.
“Those days are gone,” he said.
Ruby Daube (eight points, four rebounds, four assists) jumpstarted East Union’s 9-2 surge to start the second quarter with a 3-pointer. Reserve forward Lania Taylor capped the run with an easy layup set up by a nice pass from Vezaldenos, who finished with four assists. That gave the Lancers their first lead at 14-13, but Lathrop’s Ryleen Crull was able to answer with a trey of her own. It was tied 18-18 by halftime.
East Union never trailed again after Payne converted her second three-point play that opened second-half scoring. She tallied 12 of her 17 points in the second half, but the 6-foot-2 freshman put all of her developing skills on display Wednesday. It was Payne, while triple teamed in the paint, who found Vezaldenos for the open 3-pointer that ignited the Lancers’ game-ending charge.
“When we played them in the tournament we didn’t have her because she was injured,” Agostini said of Payne. “They outhustled us on a lot of rebounds in the first outing. With Donja she gives us a post presence and those 50-50 loose ball.
“The girl has nice, natural instincts. This girl is in her third year of playing basketball, these aren’t things that I’ve taught her, these are things that she already had.”
East Union hosts city rival Sierra on Friday, but five of its next six games — including the annual Hoops for a Cure nonleague contest with Ripon on Jan. 23 — will be away from Dalben Center.
“We expect to see Sierra’s best game,” Agostini said. “We expect every team we play to hit shots, they’re going to hustle and we have to match that every night.
“We’re concerned about every VOL game. Nothing is going to come easy. We talked to the girls about the grind of 14 league games and every league game is going to be tough. You can’t just cruise into a game at all.”
Lathrop 26, East Union 23
East Union mounted a late-game charge but came up short, as it outscored the Spartans 12-4 in the final period.
Sarah Gleockler scored nine points for the Lancers, and Stephanie Mata chipped in eight.