Sierra came oh-so-close to winning at East Union’s Dalben Center the last time the intra-city rivals met.
Both squads were then rebuilding with a core of fresh-faced youngsters. East Union escaped with a 48-47 win on Feb. 5, 2013.
Celine Barber remembers that frustrating night. Sierra’s third-year senior guard won’t soon forget Friday’s game either.
That’s because the shorthanded, and shorter, Timberwolves returned to Dalben Center and made their biggest statement of the season with a stunning 55-50 victory.
“It felt amazing,” said Barber, who contributed eight points, nine rebounds and five steals to the win. “We hadn’t beaten East Union in so long.”
She was a fifth grader when Sierra last beat East Union, which has spent the better part of the past decade as the cream of the Valley Oak League crop. The Timberwolves (1-1 V OL, 9-6 overall) snapped a 14-game losing streak against the Lancers (0-2, 9-5) that started in 2007.
“When we beat Ripon (in pre-league play) that was a huge win, but we kind of went down from there,” said first-year head coach Martha Spivey, a 2004 Sierra grad. “This needs to be a stepping stone for us to go up. It’s huge for us to come across town to beat East Union because they’re a good program, but we need to build from this.”
It was a big bounce-back effort for Sierra, which opened the VOL with a discouraging 40-34 loss to Oakdale after leading by 10 at halftime. Oakdale, though much improved, hadn’t won a league game in three years.
The Timberwolves, who are 4-0 when scoring at least 50 points, never trailed in Friday’s contest but twice nearly blew double-digit leads. They were up by as much as 14 — 49-35 with 4:27 left in the fourth — before East Union put together its best stretch of the night.
Victoria Vezaldenos (10 points) accounted for six straight East Union points during a 12-2 run that shrank the deficit to 51-47. Loretta Kakala capped the flurry with a layup with 1:12 to go, but the Lancers didn’t score again until Olivia Vezaldenos hit a 3 with six seconds remaining. By then, Sierra had made 4 of 7 free throws to assure the win.
Olivia Vezaldenos was the best player on the court with 22 points, seven steals and five assists, but Sierra overcame her outstanding performance with depth.
Allie Walljasper, Sierra’s 6-foot-2 center, was out for a second straight game with an illness, and starting point guard Keanna Barber, also sick, didn’t play until the second half. Walljasper is the Timberwolves’ only player who can physically match up with East Union’s 6-2 freshman Loretta Kakala (eight points, 14 rebounds, five blocks), but on Friday they managed well without her.
Sophomore Kayla Wilson had 14 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead Sierra and was one of nine Timberwolves to score. Kristen Maestretti added nine points, and reserve Megan Westfall finished with eight points and five steals before fouling out.
“That’s something we do have is depth,” Spivey said. “I don’t feel like we have any standouts on our team, everybody contributes. When the girls get tired they let us know so we can sub them out. We were just moving bodies in and out, and that’s how we were able to keep up the intensity. No one jogged on the floor because were able to throw fresh legs back in there.”
Sierra looked to be the fresher team out the gate, as East Union turned the ball over mere seconds after the opening tip. Wilson and Haley Silva each made a 3-pointer to give the Timberwolves an early boost and a 6-0 lead. It also forced East Union out of its zone defense, which opened things up for Sierra closer to the basket with nifty backdoor passes.
“We just weren’t ready to play,” East Union coach Jim Agostin I said. “If I have a team that shows up not ready to play then that’s on us as coaches. We can’t show up and just expect that the other five defenders on the other side of the floor are going to allow us to do whatever we want.
“They competed, they played great defense, they made us work and they just played better than us tonight.”
It was another tough loss for East Union. The Lancers opened their VOL schedule Wednesday with a 49-47 loss to Kimball, an early favorite to win the championship. It doesn’t get easier for both Sierra and East Union, which has a date with Weston Ranch next Friday, Jan. 17. Sierra, meanwhile, heads to Kimball and hosts Sonora.
“Right now we’re just trying to get better as a basketball team,” Agostini said. “It doesn’t matter who our opponent is, we just have to play better basketball.”
East Union 50, Sierra 43
East Union (1-1, 10-2) shook off a rusty start and rallied to beat its crosstown foe behind Marcella Salyer’s 14-point effort. Jenna Zuniga added 11 for the Squires.
Sierra’s Trayana Davis poured in all 16 of her points in the second half. Natalie Garcia chipped in eight points, seven rebounds and three steals for the Timberwolves (1-1, 8-5).
East Union 40, Sierra 36
The visiting Timberwolves nearly came back from a 25-12 halftime deficit but fell short.
Alaina Haena paced EU with 13 points, while Julia Vigallon and DeJohna Pryor scored eight apiece. Vigallon also swiped 12 steals.