STOCKTON — East Union came prepared for a track meet but left the sprint spikes at home.
The fast-breaking, quick-striking Cougars from Weston Ranch forced 20 turnovers in the first half of Wednesday’s showdown of perennial Valley Oak League contenders and raced to a 58-35 dismantling of the Lancers.
Weston Ranch (5-0 VOL, 14-3 overall), one of two teams still unbeaten in league, finished with 24 steals while creating 33 turnovers, mostly from its bothersome press defense that led to uncontested layups in transition.
“We are very aware of their style of play,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “You have to be able to take on the challenge and take care of the ball. It’s easy for me to say it but we have to value our possessions and not give the ball to the other team that many times.
“It obviously took us too long to get going in this game. We didn’t match the energy for whatever reason. That’s a concern.”
Elisabeth Alexander and Patricia King each scored 19 points to lead the Cougars. Alexander was close to recording her third-career triple-double, also finishing with 11 steals, seven rebounds, six assists and two blocks. She had eight points and four steals in the first quarter when Weston Ranch rallied for an early 13-2 lead.
The Cougars scored 13 unanswered at one point, with King accounting for six of them, in the opening half to lead 26-6 with still 6:19 left.
Weston Ranch has worked tirelessly to play uptempo but under control, and it showed for the first quarter and a half.
“We’ve had to pick up the pace as we do our drills,” Alexander said. “(Coach Chris Bauer) wants us to push faster, harder and be quicker.”
Getting them to do so with maximum efficiency is next on the checklist for Bauer and Co. East Union (3-2, 11-5) finally showed life midway through the second quarter, as Anna Wood powered the Lancers’ 10-2 flurry that ended the half. Wood led the Lancers with 13 points, 17 rebounds and five steals. She grabbed 10 of those boards in the first quarter.
“We’ve been working on playing a complete game,” Bauer said. “We started out OK in the first quarter but in the second quarter East Union made adjustments and did a good job with that. Getting out early helped give us a little momentum.”
Alexander and King got Weston Ranch back on track in the third, when it outscored the Lancers, 21-11. The dynamic guard tandem combined to score 17 points in the quarter.
“I love playing with her; I’ve been playing with her since I was in elementary school,” Alexander said of King. “She’s grown so much and she’s just a big part of our game. I can rely on her to do anything — get rebounds, steals, finish.”
Most important, the Cougars can now rely on her to be the primary ball handler. With their projected starting point guard out for the rest of the season due to grades King has emerged as a secondary threat alongside the prolific Alexander.
“Patricia has done a nice job, now it’s about understanding clock management and the little nuances of being a point guard because she’s never had to be a point guard before,” Bauer said.
Weston Ranch looks to keep rolling Friday when it heads to Sierra. After that it’s on to reigning champion Kimball.
East Union, meanwhile, hosts Manteca in an anticipated matchup of city rivals. It also marks the first time former Lancer Loretta Kakala returns to Dalben Center as a Buffalo. The sophomore standout transferred to Manteca at the start of the school year.
“They’re all big. The biggest game is the next one on the schedule,” Agostini said. “We never have to get the girls fired up for rivalry games. I know my team will come out and compete.”
East Union 44,
Weston Ranch 42
Faith Stofferhan and Kianna Ahlstrom scored seven points apiece in a balanced effort for East Union (4-1, 11-4), which had 10 different players score.
Weston Ranch’s Alexis Torres pumped in 10 of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. Selana Hoang contributed 10 points.
Weston Ranch 42,
East Union 36
Justice Stitt poured in 12 points as the Cougars rallied late for the win. They outscored East Union 13-7 in the final period.
Jaylah Evans chipped in eight points and five rebounds, and Marisa Castaneda came up with eight steals.