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Vista girls fall to Union Mine, 49-48

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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If Marty Benjamin could bottle energy, Vista del Lago’s girls’ basketball team might only have two losses instead of 12.

The Eagles (8-4 in league, 15-12 overall) ended the regular season with two straight losses, including a 49-48 decision Monday at the hands of Union Mine (7-5, 20-7). In several of the team’s losses this season, the Eagles have gotten off to slow starts and couldn’t overcome it. That was the case Monday, despite the fact that it was senior night with a good crowd on hand.

Despite playing poorly and trailing by 16 points just over two minutes into the third quarter, Vista came roaring back to take a four-point lead with 1:12 to play, outscoring the Diamondbacks 28-8 during that time. Union Mine, however, looking like a far better team than a 7-5 league record indicates, capitalized on the Eagles’ mistakes in the final minute to win the game.

Sonya Watson turned a Vista turnover into a three-pointer with 23 seconds to play that made it a one-point game. The Eagles immediately turned the ball over again and with 14 seconds remaining, Kimee Mueller hit what turned out to be the winning shot close to the hoop and Union Mine led 49-48.

The Eagles had 10 seconds to work with but Kendall Moore’s last-second shot bounce off the back of the rim and fell to the floor. The Eagles’ coaching staff thought Moore was fouled, but no whistle was blown.

“I’m so proud of the way the team played in the second half,” Benjamin said, “but if we played the first half with any part of the energy we played with in the second half we would have won the game. Instead, we got down by double digits and had to battle to get over the hump and then we gave the game away at the end with two turnovers when all we had to do was hold on to the ball. We panicked.”

Vista’s improved play started when Moore was inserted into the game, after sitting out the first half because she missed all of last week on a family vacation. While she only finished the game with four points, Moore gave her team a boost and the numbers don’t lie: when she entered the game Vista was down by double-digits and they came back to take a four-point lead.

“She was the difference,” Benjamin said. “We made a 20-point swing in 12 minutes and it was no coincidence that we turned it around when Kendall was in the game. She gets us in the open court and she’s so athletic and active. On top of that she can finish at the basket.”

Hailey Coburn hit a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter that seemed to boost the Eagles, turning a nine-point game into a six-point game.

Ezenia Coleman, Rebecca Stephens and Stephanie Clawson played well in the fourth quarter, as they were the only players to score. Playing with four fouls, Stephens made a pair of baskets, the second of which gave the Eagles their first lead of the game, 42-40. After the Diamondbacks tied the score, Clawson hit back-to-back baskets to put the Eagles in front by four.

“We got back in the game because of our effort,” Clawson said. “Once we started doing better, that encouraged us to play with more energy.”

Vista started the game horribly, being outscored 11-4 in the first quarter while continually giving up offensive rebounds and turning the ball over against pressure. Three of Union Mine’s points in the quarter came on a long-range desperation three-pointer by Brianna Lara as the shot clock expired. While at the time it put Vista in a deeper hole, in the end that three-pointer turned out to be a game-winner.

For the second straight game, the Eagles were hurt from beyond the arc. Union Mine knocked down five three-pointers, none bigger than Watson’s bomb with 23 seconds remaining. If Watson doesn’t make that shot, chances are the Eagles win.

On top of Vista’s struggles early, less than six minutes into the game Clawson and Coleman both had two fouls. With Moore sitting out the first half, Benjamin had to go deeper into his bench than he normally would.

For all that was going wrong, however, Vista cut Union Mine’s lead to one point, 17-16, with 3:35 to play in the quarter. The Eagles, however, were outscored 12-4 the rest of the quarter and trailed 29-20 at halftime.

Stephens led the Eagles with 12 points. Clawson finished with nine, while Caprina Pipion and Coleman each scored eight. Coburn had seven points. Union Mine was a two-woman show, as Watson scored 17 points and Mueller finished with 14. Union Mine also had a significant advantage at the foul line, making 14-of-22 shots, while Vista only made 7-of-15.

Vista now waits to see where they will fall to in the playoff seedings. No matter where they are, the Eagles are good enough to win some games, but they will need to play well.

“We need to play the way we did in the second half,” Clawson said. “We need to play with more energy and we can’t dig ourselves a hole in the beginning.”

Benjamin added, “If we bring the energy we had in the second half, we can play with a beat a lot of teams.”