MANTECA -- Had Ashley Rose been playing a game of H-O-R-S-E on the playground, East Union High likely would be one of three teams sharing first place in the Valley Oak League.
"That 3 off the board, it doesn't count if she doesn't call it, right?" said Sierra coach Isaac Gutierrez, grinning widely.
Players don't have to call trick shots in games, though, so her 3-pointer -- which ricocheted off the backboard before rocketing through the net -- was still good.
Good thing for the Lancers, because Rose's fourth-quarter trey proved crucial in their 46-41 victory over crosstown rival Sierra that kept them alone in first place.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
"I totally did not call that shot," said Rose, giddy after the on-court celebration Thursday night. "I didn't mean to bank it off the backboard, but when it was going in, all I could think was 'God, we really needed it.' "
East Union (18-8, 11-1) certainly did.
It was clinging to a 37-36 lead before Rose's 21-footer from the left side with 3:05 remaining. After Sierra hit two free throws, Rachel McDaniel (19 points) nailed a trey to build the Lancers' lead back to 43-38 with 1:10 left.
East Union made eight passes before finding McDaniel unattended on the left side.
"We wanted to work time off the clock and we wanted to make them work on defense," McDaniel said. "They were in a zone, so we kept the ball moving back and forth to tire them out."
McDaniel's three free throws in the last 15 seconds offset a 3-pointer by Sierra's Natalie Goulart, and sealed what was a wild affair pitting East Union's speed against Sierra's size.
The first time they met, East Union ran Sierra (15-4, 9-3) off the court in a 53-35 win. This time, the Timberwolves used their muscular front line to force the Lancers' offense primarily outside and keep the game close.
"We were more intense than the last game, especially inside," said 5-foot-10-inch Heather Scharmann, whose 10 rebounds led Sierra to a 42-30 rebounding edge. "It's our strength, going inside."
Sierra used a 6-0 run to take a 28-23 lead in the third quarter, as Amanda Anderson muscled in two shots and Mallory McIntyre put back in a missed shot. After McDaniel's 3-pointer helped East Union tie it at 28, the teams swapped baskets until Rose nailed her trick shot.
That not only kept the Lancers alone in first -- the Timberwolves are two games back -- it started a new win streak. East Union had 23 consecutive league wins before Tuesday's 51-42 loss at Sonora.
"That was a tough loss, but we knew it made this game with Sierra even more important," said McDaniel, who led East Union's aggressive defense. "We knew we had a big target on our back, because we beat Sierra the last time."
But McDaniel cautioned that the Lancers need two more wins before it can secure a league title: "We've got Weston Ranch and Manteca next week. If we beat them, then we'll be celebrating."
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300