East Union basketball
After earning a reputation a year ago as a defensive specialist and a spot on the Valley Oak League's all-defensive team, Rachel McDaniel worked during the offseason to upgrade her offensive skills.
The work appears to have paid off, because McDaniel has developed into East Union's top scorer. She had 18 points in a 47-36 win over Ceres, then had 11 points and eight rebounds in a 48-32 win over Central Valley. The sweep kept the No. 3 large-school Lancers atop the VOL.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
The 5-foot-7-inch junior plays the post, the wing and point guard for the Lancers, depending on who else is on the floor and the tempo of the game.
McDaniel's agility and a quick first step has allowed her to split defenders and either lean in for a short jumper or swing the ball to an open teammate.
"I've got good peripheral vision, so I can see the red jersey over there," McDaniel said.
It's not as if Modesto High didn't know that Jose Blanco was going to be shooting the ball in the fourth quarter. It was that Blanco made it difficult for Modesto to catch him, because he was hitting his shots from all over the floor — including from beyond the 3-point arc, 20 feet from the basket.
The 6-foot-3-inch guard scored 35 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, in the 75-68 loss to the Panthers. Blanco also hit six 3-pointers against Modesto. He scored 28 apiece in each of Davis' other two games, a 66-58 loss to Downey and a 58-46 win over Beyer.
"I've been shooting pretty well lately, so I've just been going with it," said Blanco, No. 3 in the Stanislaus District with 21.8 points per game. "I got into a rhythm at Modesto and the ball was ending up in my hands."
Davis has a slim chance at a playoff berth, but would likely need to win its final five games to earn a berth.
When a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended point guard Shavon Furrow's season two weeks ago, Patterson coach Jason McCleery turned to 6-foot-1-inch sophomore forward Cassie Coble for help.
"Cassie is a unique and versatile player," McCleery said. "At 6-1, with the skills of a guard, she creates a lot of mismatches. She has worked hard to become a very good ball handler and shooter."
Coble displayed those skills in victories over Livingston and Hilmar, a sweep that left the three teams tied for first place in the Western Athletic Conference. She totaled 28 points, 24 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks in the wins, while hitting 15 of 19 free throws for the No. 3 small-school Tigers.
"The key to our success lately, we've won five in a row, has been defense," McCleery said. "The team has really picked up the intensity in practice and games."
Livingston High has produced plenty of guards, both shooting and playmaking, during Angelo Naldi's career as head coach, but it's a rarity for the Wolves to feature a big man like Harnarinder Johal. The 6-foot-5-inch junior has a wing span of more than 80 inches and leads the Wolves with 16.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.
He had 28 points, seven rebounds and nine blocks in a 63-54 upset of Patterson, hitting 11 of 17 from the floor and six of seven free throws. He had four points, six rebounds and six blocks in a 50-41 win over Central Catholic.
"Oftentimes teams will double-team him," said Naldi, explaining the four-point outing. "He is good about finding the open guard cutting, passing back out for the three or finding our second post. When he is not scoring, he is contributing with his defense. His size causes players to change their shots."