MANTECA — Coaches always are tempted in the postseason to try something different, even at the expense of abandoning a major part of what got their team into that position.
In East Union High's case a new wrinkle not only worked, it worked to perfection.
The Lancers — a dedicated zone defense team — went into a combination triangle-and-two defense against Rio Americano on Tuesday night, and the result was a fourth-quarter shutout that led to a 54-43 victory in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 girls' basketball playoffs.
East Union (23-5) has won 50 games over the last two seasons, but will face a tough test Thursday. The seventh-seeded Lancers will travel to Loomis to face No. 2 seed Del Oro, which disposed of Galt 54-31.
"It means a lot that we could come home and win and move on to the second round for the second straight year," said senior guard Krystal Young, who led East Union with 23 points.
Junior Lexy Posz added 19 points and was the key to the defensive switch. Her job was to chase Rio senior guard Hilary Stewart, who averaged 18.8 points during the regular season.
Stewart scored 14, including a steal and lay-up that pulled the Raiders within 48-43 with 1 minute, 1 second left in the third quarter.
Inexplicably, Rio Americano would not score again.
"Before we went to something on defense that we hadn't tried all year, we tried to play with them in our normal defense," said East Union coach Jim Agostini. "We tried to press early and they were getting comfortable with it. Then we tried the 2-3 zone and they got comfortable with that."
Posz opened the fourth quarter with a basket and Young added one on a fast break and another off an offensive rebound to give EU a 54-43 lead with 5:06 remaining.
After that, the Lancers were more concerned with running the clock than scoring, while Rio was content throw up quick shots from the perimeter.
"As coaches we talk about defense all the time," Agostini said. "But when we get into a pressure game, we talk about staying the with fundamentals, like holding teams to one shot, blocking out and not giving up the baseline. They did a great job of responding."
Shannon Louther kept Rio close through three quarters by hitting four 3-pointers en route to 16 points, but found few open looks in the fourth quarter. EU's defensive strategy was made easier with the Raiders' lack of an inside scoring threat.
Shalane Jackson scored only six points but had 16 rebounds for the Lancers, and Rachel O'Neil pulled down 14 rebounds. Both dominated on the defensive boards in the fourth quarter to assist in the shutout.
"I didn't realize we held them without a point," Young said. "I guess we played good defense. It means a lot that we can hold a playoff-caliber team to no points in a quarter."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.