Rock steady: EU rides its defense to win over Sonora

MANTECA -- It's a myth diamonds are difficult to crack. Apply the right amount of pressure in the right spot, and the pricey gems shatter like glass.

Then there is East Union's "diamond," a half-court trapping defense that was virtually indestructible Thursday night.

"We felt if we kept the ball out of the hands of Sonora's fabulous guards, we'd have a real advantage," said EU assistant Scott Renke. "So we kept forcing their big girls to handle it."

With Sonora's frontcourt unable to crack the diamond, EU rallied for a 44-41 victory and sole possession of first place in the Valley Oak League.

The Lancers (20-1, 7-1), No. 2 in The Bee's large-school poll, hold a one-game lead over the No. 3 Wildcats (12-7, 6-2) -- and the teams won't meet again.

The game came down to the final shot, with Kelli Keefe hitting the front rim on a 23-footer as the final buzzer blared.

Both teams were desperate for the win -- EU beat the Wildcats a month ago, but an upset loss to Weston Ranch dropped the Lancers into a tie for first.

Sonora, meanwhile, needed a win because it can't count on the Lancers being upset again.

It looked like Sonora would get the better of EU this time when the Wildcats took a 17-6 lead early in the second quarter.

That's when EU ratcheted up the pressure, focusing to Sonora's talented backcourt duo of Keefe and point guard Alison Perry. That forced Sonora into many of its 28 turnovers.

The Lancers allowed the guards to get the inbounds pass, but there were always two defenders preventing them from dribbling.

Sonora often burned half of the 30-second clock trying to get the ball upcourt, leaving precious little time to set up and execute a play. That all but took Keefe, the Wildcats' lethal 3-point shooter, out of the offensive flow.

She hit her first three shots, including her lone trey, but managed just two shots in the next two quarters. After scoring nine in the first quarter, she didn't score again until there was just 3:22 remaining in the game.

Her bucket brought Sonora to within 41-36, and set up an exciting finish -- and that give Keefe an opportunity to force overtime.

After EU's Rachel McDaniel missed the front end of a one-and-one with 8 seconds left, Sonora grabbed the rebound and rushed upcourt and Keefe had one chance.

EU's Ashley Rose, Keefe's game-long nemesis, came flying at her and forced the Sonora guard to alter her shot at the last moment.

"Ashley always seemed to be right there," Keefe said. "East Union runs that box-and-one on me and Ashley does a good job staying with me. It was tough getting back in the flow late in the game after getting so few shots."