Anytime Olivia Vezaldenos gets on a roll, which is often, she doesn’t need to get the green light from East Union head coach Jim Agostini.
“Yeah, absolutely — you let her go,” Agostini said. “When you have somebody like that you don’t want to hogtie her.”
Manteca may be wishing that he did, because it didn’t have an answer for the outstanding point guard in Friday’s first-place showdown of Valley Oak League powers at Dalben Center.
Vezaldenos came up two points shy of matching her career high and was three off of Christin Gowan’s program record, as she torched the Buffaloes for 38 points in a resounding 74-58 win.
She had 22 points at halftime, accounted for 12 of her team’s 19 in the fourth quarter and converted 12 of 13 free-throw attempts overall. Two of Vezaldenos’ best games have come against intra-city nemeses, as she poured in 40 against Sierra during her sophomore campaign.
“She’s been with me for four years,” Agostini said. “I trust her decisions, and she’s matured as a basketball player and as a young lady.”
And Vezaldenos has trust in her teammates.
Shortly after scoring East Union’s first four points in the opening minute of the third quarter, Vezaldenos picked up her third foul and was sent to the bench. The rest of the Lancers, namely Ruby Daube, gave Agostini a reason to keep Vezaldenos on the sideline for the remainder of the period, as they were able to extend a 36-26 halftime lead to 55-37 going into the fourth.
“I know that I can always rely on them to do what they need to do whether I’m on the court or not,” Vezaldenos said. “We love to play team basketball, so whether it’s with me or not I know they’ll pull through.”
The diminutive Daube, took over the game in her own way, fearlessly attacking the basket and earning trips to the free-throw line where she was 12 for 16 for the night. The 5-foot-2 junior finished with 16 points, nine coming in the final 4:01 of the third.
East Union (8-0 VOL, 20-1 overall) also had big contributions from its 6-foot tandem of Ciara Goodwin (10 points, 11 rebounds) and freshman Donja Payne (six points, 17 rebounds, two blocks), which had to battle in the paint with Loretta Kakala, who amassed 29 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. The Lancers won the rebounding battle, 43-32.
“Every rebound was huge, and we talked about that coming into the game,” said Agostini, who also credited reserves DeJohna Pryor and Lania Taylor. “We need to rebound the basketball some way, somehow.”
Rubel Dehal added 13 points, including three 3s, five rebounds and four assists for the Buffaloes (7-1, 14-8), who failed to build on their 10-2 run at the start of the game.
“They called a timeout and just started chipping away at us,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said. “We kind of got out of our rhythm and couldn’t get back into it.”
The Lancers got untracked late in the first quarter when Kakala took a breather. With the towering 6-2 presence out of the picture, East Union gained more confidence in penetrating the middle of the Manteca defense. The Lancers closed the quarter on a 15-4 run that extended into the second with Goodwin scoring on a put-back and Vezaldenos converting on a jump-stop layup on their first two possessions.
It was all East Union from there.
“We were looking to push the ball every single possession tonight,” Agostini said. “After makes — go. Just play a full-court game. Anytime Loretta comes off the floor you don’t get comfortable as a coach, but you feel like you might be able to do a few more things.”
Both coaches were surprised by the offensive output, as previous meetings between the rivals have tended to be low scoring. East Union’s 74-point effort is a seson-high.
“East Union is a talented team, and I don’t think we went out here and executed what we’ve been doing up until now as well as we should have,” Tolbert said.
The good news for the Buffaloes is they’ll have another shot at the Sac-Joaquin Section’s No. 1 ranked Division III team (according to MaxPreps) on Feb. 12.
“Nobody’s won a championship here tonight,” Agostini said.