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Sierra, Manteca battle to a 2-2 draw
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Juan Acosta tumbled to the turf following the final whistle, wearing a look of frustration.

Bryan Ramos tugged at his jersey, wishing he had just a little more magic left in his brilliant right foot.

Meanwhile, across the way, Manteca High coach Justin Coenenberg breathed a sigh of relief.

On a rivalry night that pushed fans to the edge of their seats and ended in a 2-2 draw, emotion emerged victorious, taking on different forms in each huddle.

Sierra lamented its missed chances, the frustration painted across the faces of its marquee players.

Ramos scored both goals, raising his season total to 19. The highlight came in the 45th minute – a beautiful volley in the penalty box that he originally took off his chest.

The blast came seconds after Manteca’s equalizer.

“After that second goal, I felt like the third one was coming right behind it,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said.

Ramos had opportunities to nab his second hat trick of the season, but came up short on two point-blank opportunities in the final 26 minutes.

Manteca goalie Abdiel Chaquito (seven saves) blocked a 1-on-1 in the 54th minute. Seventeen minutes later, Ramos watched as his volley inside the penalty stripe banged off the crossbar.

“When we don’t finish those,” Pires said, “it lets the other team gain some momentum.

“We dominated. It shows on every count – corner kicks, shots, everything. We just couldn’t get the ball in the net. We didn’t play bad. … I’m happy with the game, but I’m not happy with the result. If that makes any sense.”

The Buffaloes, clinging to second position in the Valley Oak League table, left Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium satisfied with the draw.

Manteca was outplayed in the first 30 minutes and was outshot 21-11, but found its offense during the chaotic moments in the second half.

Jason Marvailla flipped his shot past Sierra goalie Manny Garcia (four saves) in the 44th minute, finishing a counterattack sparked by Chaquito and a perfectly weighted pass by Marcus Montano.

Later, Kevin Rodriguez won a scramble in front of the net following a corner kick, poking home the equalizer.

“I’ve been doing this for quite some time now and these rivalry matches are always a battle,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “I would have liked to get out of her with three points, but considering how we played in the first half, I’ll take the tie.”

Manteca (6-2-1) is a game back of Valley Oak League leader Oakdale (7-1-1), which suffered its first loss on Tuesday at Lathrop.

Though his team started slow, Coenenberg was pleased with the way his boys answered every Sierra push.

“We’ve played well in close games. We’ve been in a number of them this season,” he said. “Even though we were down, we never quit.”

The Buffaloes had their own chances, too.

Jesus Ponce had a shot from the top of the box batted back by Garcia in the 68th minute. Marvailla pounced on the rebound but his shot carried wide.

Sierra (5-1-3) remains a point points back of the Buffaloes in third place. The top three teams advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section tournament.

Pires says his team’s primary focus is gearing up for a deep playoff push – not defending its half of the VOL championship.

“We have five games left, so we need to build on this game and get some victories,” Pires said. “They’ll help for positioning for the playoffs.

“The second season is the playoffs and it’s a totally different animal. We’re playing good, but we need to keep building.”