Eagles back to familiar perch

Strong defense leads Del Oro back to semifinals, where Sacramento awaits
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Del Oro High’s defensive intensity is back just in time. The No. 2 Golden Eagles suffocated No. 7 East Union 66-33 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal Thursday night, playing with a backcourt passion that has been absent in recent weeks. “This is the best intensity that we’ve had in quite a while,” head coach Mike Takayama said. “We kind of went through league and started to take things for granted, and even in the first round of the playoffs. Tonight, to have the team come out with such energy and take it right at them was nice. We didn’t allow them to get into the game.” Del Oro led 21-3 after one quarter as the Lancers shot just 1 of 10 in the opening eight minutes and finished the game a dismal 19.3 percent (11-for-57) from the floor. East Union (23-6) struggled to get the ball across half court early on and the Eagles (26-4) stole pass after pass with a tenacious press. When the Lancers did get shots off, Belle Obert was there to swat them. The Del Oro junior finished with eight blocks and also had a game-high 13 rebounds. “We played a great basketball team tonight,” East Union head coach Jim Agostini said. “They play the game at a very high level, a level that was very tough for us to match. That’s a good program, year in and year out. You have a coach that has over 500 wins. He’s doing something right. I gotta hang around ’til I’m 60 or 70 to get that many.” Del Oro earned a berth in the newly expanded CIF Northern California playoffs and a section semifinal rematch with archnemesis No. 3 Sacramento High, a 70-42 winner over No. 6 El Dorado Thursday. The Eagles led 36-13 at halftime and 63-24 when Takayama pulled his last starter late in the third quarter. Obert scored 14, junior Madeline Campbell finished with 13 points and junior Taylor Donnot added nine. “Our intensity totally changed tonight,” said junior Crystal Sewell, who scored a game-high 22. “We really wanted to win this and we didn’t just want to come out and play lackadaisical. We wanted to get ready for Sac High. We had a meeting before the game to just get mentally prepared, and we came out strong.” The Dragons have eliminated the Eagles in two consecutive section semifinals and ousted Del Oro from the playoffs four of the last five years. “I think we have an opportunity to finally exorcise the demon because we have more ballhandling and people who can finish,” Takayama said. “They’ll probably press us and do those things. In the past their press really hurt us. I think we’ll be able to handle the press and run with them more.”