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Pimentel pours in 22 for two-time champs

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Manteca High guard Ernie Pimentel takes Sierra defender Allan Sampayan off the dribble. Pimentel finished with 22 points and five assists to lead the Buffaloes.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED February 13, 2010 1:57 a.m.
Ernie Pimentel was the last of the Manteca High boys basketball players to hop off the ladder with a piece of history in hand.

It was a fitting end to the senior’s night at Winter Gym Friday, when he scored 22 points and dished out five assists to lead the Buffaloes’ 66-49 victory over rival Sierra.

Manteca (13-1, 20-5 overall) won its 11th straight and clinched a second consecutive outright championship of the Valley Oak League with two regular-season games remaining.

“The second time is sweeter,” Pimentel said.

Sierra (10-4, 17-8) never led and didn’t trail by double digits until Manteca’s standout point guard Kiwi Gardner hit his only 3-pointer to make it 51-40 with 6:38 remaining.

Gardner, coming off Saturday’s 41-point performance to improve his season scoring average to 24.6, struggled from both the field and the free-throw line, finishing a rare off night with 17 points, six steals and three assists.

Center E.J. Godfrey pitched in with nine points.

“We’re just trying to play our best basketball heading into the playoffs,” Pimentel said. “We all have to work and we all have to contribute. We can’t always rely on him.”

Sophomore post Will Ward led Sierra with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. David Keating was big off the bench, contributing with eight points and six rebounds.

Ward scored 10 of his points in the first half to keep the Timberwolves within reach, and they rolled into halftime with momentum on their side after scoring the final five points in the second quarter — including David Keating’s 3-point buzzer beater to close them in, 31-30.

“You expect Sierra to give you a tough game every night,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “They play solid defense, and they did a good job of making (Gardner) work to get the ball.

“Coming out (of halftime) we knew that we had to pick it up.”

Manteca did just that, opening the third with a 10-3 run capped by two free throws from Gerry Cooper. The Buffaloes surged again with a 13-3 spurt to start the fourth quarter. Sierra got the looks it wanted in the final period, but several attempts from point blank rimmed out.

The Timberwolves’ chances to mount a comeback took a hit when its best outside shooter, Trevor Noguiera (seven points), fouled out with 4:33 left, and they could only muster nine points in the fourth.

With the league title already decided, both Manteca and Sierra still have Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff spots to fight for. The Buffaloes, No. 5 in the section’s power ratings, have already clinched a berth but could fall out of the running for a first-round home game with losses next week.

Manteca closes out the regular season on the road against second-place Sonora Wednesday, and at home with crosstown foe East Union Feb. 19.

Sierra takes on Central Valley at home before heading to Weston Ranch. Sierra will likely drop from its current 13th seed with Friday’s loss, while Weston Ranch is 17th. The top 16 rated teams advance to the postseason.
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