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Vista improves to 5-0 in SVC

By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
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Vista del Lago’s varsity boys’ basketball team keeps finding ways to win. On Friday night on the road at Union Mine, Jake Duenkel’s last-second shot was off the mark, but Ryan Rodriguez was there to tip in the miss as the final buzzer sounded and the Eagles won the game, 61-59. The win moved the Eagles to 5-0 in the Sierra Valley Conference a 9-11 overall. Vista played River City Tuesday and begins the second round of conference play at home Friday against El Dorado. The Eagles opened league play on Jan. 3 with a 73-68 win. Despite opening the week with a six-game win streak, Vista coach Matt von Tillow said he’s not worried about his team being overconfident. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and it’s good to win games like that because it gives the kids confidence,” von Tillow said. “But I’m not worried about us being overconfident because it’s not like we’re blowing teams out. The boys know that we’re in first place and that we’re going to get everyone’s best effort.” The key to the team’s improved play since a 0-10 start has been effort, von Tillow said. “We just weren’t playing hard enough for 32 minutes,” von Tillow said of the team’s poor start. “No way did I think we would start off like that. Once the kids realized that they needed to play harder, they’ve started winning. Honestly, in some of those early losses, we’d take some time off and now we’re not taking any time off. The boys have gotten together a couple times for meetings without me being there and that’s nice to see that leadership. They’ve really come together.” Earlier in the week the Eagles defeated Liberty Ranch, 59-52. After taking a 20-6 first-quarter lead, holding the visitors to 0-of-7 from three-point and 2-of-6 from the field, Vista was outscored in both the second and third quarters. Liberty Ranch flipped a three-point switch from its first quarter woes and hit a combined 9-of-16 in the two middle quarters. A large lead dwindled to a one-point 41-40 margin entering the fourth quarter. The Eagles lost its lead twice in the third and once in the fourth. Vista then relied on its big man to pull his team to victory. Tyler Jones matched a season-high 19 points, seven coming in the fourth quarter. He turned a late one-possession game into a show of dominance in the paint. Liberty Ranch scored nine of its 12 fourth quarter points on three-pointers, making it a total 12-of-34 for most of the team’s points. It was the tale of how the game remained close, because inside against Jones, Liberty Ranch didn’t stand a chance. “It’s not only me, it was my teammates,” said Jones. “They focused on pounding the ball inside so much more that I was able to step up and be a part of the win.” Rebounding against a three-point shooting team can be a challenge for any big man, but Jones said he used those as opportunities to find his teammates on the perimeter. The Eagles successfully shot 6-of-11 from beyond the arc, including a perfect 4-for-4 in the first quarter. “Someone has to step up for us to get a win and I got that chance today,” added Jones. “We’re really confident and in a good position right now. We’re going to have to step it up, though.” Ian McLachlan scored 12 points, Patrick Lowman had 11 and both Drew McPherson and Duenkel added six. So far this season the Eagles have done nothing but step up since the start of league. It’s hard to imagine a team which lost 10 games before winning its first would in the matter of less than a month be unbeaten in its league and more than half of its league opponents in the dust. That’s exactly what coach von Tillow and the Eagles have done. “It was good to know we can show up without playing our best game and still win,” said von Tillow. “That was [Jones’s] best game by far. He carried us the whole game. He’ll do anything when we need it and tonight we needed him to score. But being unbeaten doesn’t matter. Our goal is to win the whole league. Being in this position, though, now we can focus on one game at a time.” Brett Ransford contributed to this story.