Even in defeat, the East Union girls basketball team learned plenty about itself in Wednesday’s Valley Oak League-opening contest with visiting Kimball.
“We’re pretty good,” said freshman Loretta Kakala, the Lancers’ skilled 6-foot-2 center. “We’re only going to get better with more games to come and we have a few more years together.”
The more experienced Jaguars of Tracy escaped with a 49-47 victory, but youth-laden East Union gave them all they could handle from start to finish. Lancer coach Jim Agostini believes Kimball, which boasts the VOL’s best overall record at 12-2, is the pacesetter in the title race this season, but his squad proved it is also one to be reckoned with after going 8-17 last year.
“Tough loss tonight,” Agostini said. “We’re not looking for moral victories, but how our girls competed is what I liked as a coach. They went after the 50-50 balls. Their guts, their desire — I can’t question it at all.
“If we come out and compete like that every night we’ll be all right.”
Allison Schmidt (10 points), one of four Jaguars in double figures, hit the biggest bucket of the night — a mid-range floater with 29 seconds to go.
East Union (0-1, 8-4) failed to get a shot off in its final possession, as senior standout Noni Kuumba ripped the ball away from point guard Olivia Vezaldenos.
“We were trying to run a clear-out pick and roll to attack the basket and maybe draw a foul, and (Kimball) did a nice job (defensively),” Agostini said. “Kuumba wasn’t guarding Olivia the whole night and she did on that possession. That was a good defensive play by a senior. She did what she was asked to there.”
Kuumba is one of just two seniors on Kimball’s roster, but the team starts four third-year juniors. Kuumba led Kimball with 13 points, five rebounds, five blocks, four assists and four steals. Alexis Clark added 12 points for the Jaguars, while Sarah Nunes chipped in 10 points and seven boards.
Kakala paced East Union with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Agostini did not hesitate to go to her when the going got tough.
“She’s a player who has got good basketball skills,” Agostini said. “We run stuff for her and you have run plays through your best players. She is fun to watch.”
Vezaldenos, a sophomore, also came through in key moments and finished with 16 points. Her sister, Victoria, chimed in with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Olivia Vezaldenos sparked East Union late in the third quarter when Kimball appeared to be on its way to running away with it. The Jaguars went on a 9-2 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 39-31 after Clark converted her second 3-pointer of the quarter.
The Lancers battled back in the final minute and were able to close to within one, 41-40, by the end of the period. Freshman Ruby Dauby buried a 3 to jump start the flurry, and the younger Vezaldenos took it from there.
Vezaldenos hit a long jumper with 21 seconds left and later beat the buzzer with a four-point play. Dauby found her open at the top of the 3-point arc on an inbounds play, and Vezaldenos sank the shot as she was fouled by Kuumba.
“Coach (Richard) Marsh and I were talking around then and saying ‘we’re in the danger zone,’ Agostini said of the eight-point deficit. “The girls just made plays. As a coach sometimes you don’t get in their way and allow them to make basketball plays.”
East Union 40
Down two starting guards, the Squires (0-1, 9-2) were still in position to come away with the win but could not execute in the final minute.
Jessica Pablo and Jenna Zuniga each scored 11 points to lead the way, while Jordyn Posz added eight.