Manteca’s Rashawn Ballard was ready when called Thursday in the Valley Oak League finale against highly-motivated rival East Union.
With the host Buffaloes clinging to a two-point lead, Ballard skied for an offensive rebound with 26 seconds left to keep the ball out of the Lancers’ hands. Manteca added three more points for a 64-59 win.
“Coach has said that we need to rebound in big moments,” Ballard said. “The ball was right there and I went up and grabbed it.
“This was a big one for us. Hopefully we can get better in practice and get ready for the playoffs.”
Needing a win to try and make the playoffs, the Lancers (3-9 VOL, 12-16 overall) closed a nine-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to tie the contest at 56-56 with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter on a three-point play by Christian Cuevas (13 points), capping a 9-2 East Union run.
With momentum squarely in the Lancers’ pocket, the Buffaloes (8-4, 14-9) missed a shot on their next possession, and Dominic Garcia (12 points) grabbed the rebound for East Union. Manteca’s Jorge Cedano (20 points, three assists) challenged Garcia, and with all the pandemonium in the gym the referees did not hear East Union coach James Ward screaming for a timeout.
Instead, a jump ball was called, and the possession arrow pointed the Buffaloes’ way. Domonick Victor (16 points, nine rebounds) hit the next five points of the game for the Buffaloes and the Lancers never recovered.
“That’s the way the ball bounces sometimes,” Ward said.
Isaiah Victor was 4 for 4 on free throws in the fourth quarter for Manteca and finished with 18 points.
“We had a really good crowd,” Victor said. “Especially with this being a crosstown rivalry game.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game because they needed it to go to playoffs so we knew we had to keep playing hard no matter what.”
Known for their long-range prowess, the Lancers did not disappoint, hitting 12 from behind the arc.
“Give it to them, man,” Buffaloes coach Brett Lewis said. “They didn’t go away and they had a great game plan. They can shoot the heck out of the ball and they showed it tonight. We were pretty much inside of their jerseys and they were still knocking them down from deep.
“This was a fun game, a classic rivalry game.”
Cuevas’ 13 points led East Union. Along with Garcia, Parmbir Khattra drained four 3-pointers for 12 points and Asiah Scott had 11 points behind three 3-pointers.
Teetering on the playoff bubble with the pairings to be announced Saturday, Ward thinks the loss ended his scrappy squad’s season.
“It was a tough loss,” Ward said. “It was pretty much win or go home tonight in our minds so it was a tough loss. We prepared for this as if it was our playoffs and we don’t know for sure, but our conclusion was we needed a win or we go home.
“One thing is for sure — our guys never quit.”
Manteca 53, East Union 38
The Buffaloes used an 11-3 second quarter to help pull away and claim the VOL championship with a 10-2 league record.
Manteca’s Nick Bell earned high-point honors with 28 points and Khalid Robinson chipped on 14.
Nav Samra had nine points for the Lancers and Bryan Howe had seven.
Manteca 51, East Union 37
The Buffaloes’ Ryan Inderbitzin led all scorers with 13 points.
Nate Rodriguez had nine points for the Lancers and Justice Sandoval added seven.