Olivia Vezaldenos came up big – huge – for East Union on Thursday night, but unfortunately, it was not enough.
With the second-seeded Lancers trailing No. 7 River Valley of Yuba City by five points with time running down, Vezaldenos hit a deep 3-pointer with eight seconds left to close the gap.
Following a timeout, Vezaldenos intercepted the ensuing in-bounds pass near her basket and then there was contact and a whistle. Instead of getting the foul, Vezaldenos was called for traveling. River Valley went to the free throw line and made one of two with 2.2 seconds left. The ball ended up in the hands of Vezaldenos, who let loose a half-court shot at the buzzer that hit high on the glass, missing the hoop and allowing the Falcons to escape Dalben Center with a 52-49 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal win.
“That was a great play,” Lancers coach Jim Agostini said of the Vezaldenos steal. “We were in a desperate situation and we were looking for a steal and we got it.
“There was action after the steal and for whatever reason it didn’t go our way.”
Despite a dominating performance by Cailyn Francis in the first half, River Valley (23-4) led just 29-28 at halftime. Francis had nine of her 16 points in the opening quarter and 14 of her team high 21 rebounds by halftime.
“She is a D-1 player,” Falcons coach Thomas Zaragoza said of Francis. “She has been getting some offers from like Sac State and Portland State. She has improved a lot this year and she is our go-to kid right now – we love her. I want more of those kids.”
Trinity Norris – who led all scorers with 20 points with 12 rebounds – hit two of her team’s four third-quarter 3-pointers for the Falcons to help give River Valley a 43-34 lead going into the final period.
As they had all year, Vezaldenos and Ruby Daube took turns leading the East Union attack. Vezaldenos scored 17 points with six rebounds and two assists; and Daube had 18 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists.
“We did accomplish a lot this season,” Daube said. “We all had the same goals. Our first goal was to win the VOL and we did that as a team. We didn’t get to our final goal but we got close. We might not have accomplished what we wanted but we accomplished a lot. We might not see it right now but we will.
“What hurts the most is to know how hard we worked at practice and how much we wanted it and how hard we fought and even with the support of our coaches it just didn’t turn out like we wanted to.”
Agostini was pleased with the 27-2 season his team registered.
“Every team has the same goal the first game of the season,” Agostini said. “Not every team gets to finish league play undefeated and the regular season with one loss. To win a championship is phenomenal and the girls did an outstanding job. It hurts now – things hurt when you put as much effort into things as they did and you come up short – it does hurt.
“It was just a great year for them. I could not be more proud of them. I think our girls gave it everything. It was a pretty physical game. We got a little worked on the boards in the first half and in the second half they knocked down some shots.”
Three teams from the Tri-County Conference – three-way champions River Valley, Inderkum and Rio Linda – along with East Union and Manteca from the Valley Oak League played in quarterfinal contests Thursday, but only the TCC teams advanced.
“We play in one of the toughest leagues in the Sacramento area,” Zaragoza said. “We beat up on each other and we grind it out. That is why the top three are moving onto the semifinals.”