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Buffaloes season ends by a touch
Oak Ridge hits game-winner on broken play
Manteca center Jorge Castro goes up strong in front of Oak Ridge’s Chris Browning, while Jordan Weir tries to strip the ball away. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
It would have taken a miracle for Manteca to overcome’s Oak Ridge’s good fortune.
The Buffaloes were in a bad spot for a catch-and-shoot prayer at the end of Wednesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff opener at Winter Gym, with Ernie Pimentel inbounding the ball from their own baseline and only 1.3 seconds remaining.
Oak Ridge center Chris Browning intercepted Pimentel’s pass intended for Dominique Barnes at midcourt, securing the No. 9 Trojans’ thrilling 73-72 victory.
“It’s the best game we’ve played as a team, it just sucks for them to beat us like that,” said Manteca standout forward Nick Scheible.
Scheible was referring to the game-winning play just moments before Pimentel’s Hail Mary toss.
After Scheible rattled in a pair of free throws to put the eighth-seeded Buffaloes ahead for the last time, Oak Ridge (20-6) got the ball across midcourt and called a timeout with 3.6 seconds left.
Oak Ridge guard Chad Nunes said that a play was set up for a shot from the corner or in the low post, but teammate Zach McMillan found him wide open at the free-throw line. Scheible was able to get a hand on the ball, but it somehow continued on course to its target.
Nunes’ resulting jumper from the middle of the key was uncontested, as he nailed the shot that has the Trojans preparing for Friday’s second-round meeting with top-seeded Rocklin.
“We got the defense we wanted,” Manteca head coach Dave Asunion said. “The ball came floating in and Scheible made a play on it … it just landed in the wrong player’s hands. If that tips away and lands in our hands we win.
“You have to give Chad credit. That’s a big shot with the clock running down on a busted play.”
Nunes finished with 27 points, six assists and three steals; and wiry 6-foot-4-inch forward Colin Johnson added 26 points, five rebounds and five blocks for Oak Ridge before fouling out with 1:27 to go.
Manteca, unknown to most Sacramento-area teams after an eight-year hiatus from the postseason, earned the respect of Nunes and the rest of the visitors from El Dorado Hills.
“We knew they were 24-3 and you can’t be a bad team if you have a 24-3 record no matter what league you play in,” Nunes said.
The Buffaloes’ top players went out with a bang, with sophomore point guard Kiwi Gardner leading the way with 36 points. Scheible added 16 points and 10 rebounds; while Dominique Barnes turned in 10 points, 13 boards and two blocks.
Manteca got Oak Ridge’s attention at the start by taking an early 8-0 lead, but the Trojans managed to stay within striking distance and opened the second quarter with nine unanswered points while taking their first lead, 24-21, in the process.
“Manteca is a great team — very talented, very well coached and we’re on their home floor,” Oak Ridge coach Bob Christensen said. “They came out, threw the first punch and landed.
“We just had to come off the canvas and respond. Nerves are a part of it, but we just had to settle down a little bit and start playing basketball.”
And what a basketball game it was. The contest had five lead changes with both teams taking turns winding up for the knockout punch.
Oak Ridge wobbled Manteca at the start of the first with an 11-0 flurry to stake the game’s biggest lead at 67-57. The Buffaloes countered with a 13-2 spurt highlighted by Gardner’s three-point play and a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 1:49 remaining, and Barnes capped the run by hitting one of two free throws.
 “I feel so bad for these kids,” Asuncion said. “I’m going to be here next year, but our seniors played their butts off all year.
“They’ll probably forget about it in a few years, but the question that I want them to be able to answer is, ‘Did you leave it all out on the court?’ Every one of them could say yes to that.”