EL DORADO — Madi Aliff’s back-to-back buckets doubled Union Mine’s lead late in the fourth quarter Wednesday as the host Lady Diamondbacks held off Cordova 38-30 to win their season opener.
Seeing its advantage shrink in half and facing Lancer pressure, Union Mine beat the Cordova press on consecutive possessions with Aliff the beneficiary. The D’backs also received six points from Kim Mueller in the quarter to stave off the Lancers’ comeback bid.
Aliff and Mueller, each All-Sierra Valley Conference performers last season, are centerpieces of a senior class that returns six to the fold, including point guard Deyanira Ventura, wing Alex Smith and guards Sonya Watson and Brianna Lara. Rounding out the roster for coaches Chris Del Rio and Dave Del Rio are two juniors and three sophomores.
At times Wednesday, play was ragged for both teams — not entirely unexpected for the first game. Both stuck with zone defenses which proved effective. After a decent start on Aliff’s foul-line banker and Smith’s two free throws, the hosts fell victim to turnovers and fouls that switched the lead but Union Mine never trailed after Savannah Scott popped a corner three-pointer to close the first quarter.
The D’backs found a late spark in the second but so did Cordova. Union Mine led 16-13 at the halftime break. Mueller and Ventura, who each picked up three quick fouls, saw very limited playing time in the first 16 minutes.
“We had 11 fouls in the first quarter. We were fortunate they struggled on their free throws,” Dave said.
A quick start let the D’backs extend to open the third. Aliff’s putback, Smith’s wing jumper, a Trisha Tolbert putback and Smith’s two free throws had Union Mine up nine before the pesky Lancers hit the glass to pull within 28-24 heading to the fourth.
After a series of turnovers hit both sides, Mueller’s two free throws with 4:32 left opened the scoring in the final quarter. Aliff found Mueller for two but Cordova rallied to inch back within four. With time winding down, Aliff scored twice underneath to cement the win.
“We spread our zone a little and opened it up. We’re doing different things,” Dave said. “I’m looking forward to this team — it’s a great set of girls and the six seniors really want to make the playoffs.”
Union Mine can reach the postseason, its main goal, with 15 wins according to a new CIF rule. Last year the D’backs won 13.
After the seniors, the junior class is Tolbert and Stephanie Preacher, aggressive rebounders who’ve improved over the summer.
The sophomore trio is Scott, Kinsey Del Rio and Yvonne Taylor; three hardworking players who have stepped up and bring ball handling, shooting and rebounding skills to the mix.
Three players decided not to return to the team this winter including junior Tiffany Nesterenko, the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago, who’s now at Ponderosa.