Poor fourth quarter sends Vista boys to 55-36 loss against Liberty Ranch

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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Trailing by four points at the start of the fourth quarter, Vista del Lago’s varsity boys’ basketball team was in good position to get a much-needed win over Liberty Ranch Monday.

Vista coach Matt von Tillow told his players between quarters: “We can do this is we get stops at the defensive end.”

The Eagles, however, neither got those stops nor had much success at the other end of the floor, as Liberty Ranch outscored Vista 19-4 in the final quarter and won the game 55-36.

The loss dropped the Eagles to 3-6 in the Sierra Valley Conference, while the Hawks improved to 8-2. Sitting 21st in the Division III power rankings, the Eagles are in a must-win situation if they are to make the playoffs.

“We’ve been working a lot on our defense and I thought we played winning defense tonight, but we’re struggling to score,” von Tillow said. “We fouled them too much and put them on the line and they didn’t miss many free throws and that was the difference in the game.”

The defensive plan heading into the game was to keep anyone but Hawks leading scorer Michael Meserole from beating them. Meserole scored 25 points against Vista earlier in league play and von Tillow didn’t want another game like that. Mehran Amin was given the duty of guarding Meserole.

“The plan was not to let him touch the ball,” Amin said. “I thought we did a pretty solid job on him, but he’s a great player. You can only do so much.”

The Eagles, particularly Amin and Ryan Larocca off the bench, who drew the assignment to guard Meserole, did a good job defending early. Meserole only made two free throws in the first quarter and didn’t make his first basket until midway through the second quarter. However, Meserole came alive with nine points in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 20.

“We knew we weren’t going to shut him out, but we just wanted to make him work hard,” von Tillow said. “He didn’t make too many field goals, but we were a step late on our help and he got to the line quite a bit. He’s an active player and he never stops working for the ball and his teammates never stop getting him the ball.”

Meserole scored the first basket of the fourth quarter and teammate Chris Childs followed with a three-pointer, as the Hawks jumped out to a 41-32 lead with six minutes remaining.

Jake Duenkel, who led Vista with nine points, then scored in the paint, but the Hawks rattled off the next nine points, five from Meserole, to seal the win.

Following Meserole’s 20 points, DeAndre Stallings hit three three-pointers and scored 16 points. Amin and Drew McPherson backed up Duenkel’s nine points with eight apiece.

The Eagles have three games remaining: at Union Mine (1-8, 10-14) Wednesday and River City (7-2, 15-8) Friday before hosting El Dorado (5-5, 9-15) on Feb. 12.

“I don’t want to speculate whether or not we can still make the playoffs, but we just need to keep improving and play hard,” von Tillow said. “To make the playoffs, we need to win and we’ve got to figure that part out.”

Amin added, “I just want us to keep improving. We have a lot of young guys and I want us to keep playing hard and having fun.”