The Manteca High Buffaloes saved their best shooting game of the year for Friday’s Valley Oak League finale at East Union.
As a result, they possibly bettered their playoff seeding with a 77-66 victory.
“It was big that we hit our shots,” said Manteca coach Jason Hitt, who was especially pleased from the production of his big man Nick Bell.
The 6-foot-4 junior forward was no match for the Lancers.
“Their big guy killed us,” East Union coach James Ward said.
Bell, who finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds — six came on the offensive end — a block and a steal, helped seal the deal for the Buffaloes (7-5 VOL, 14-14 overall) by hitting his free throws down the stretch.
He credited his teammates for opening up the inside with their outside shooting. James Briscoe and Jake Wirstlin provided the big boost during crucial junction of the game, combining for seven 3s during a stretch that started midway through the second quarter through most of the third.
Prior to that, East Union (4-8, 13-15) caught fire early on, in particular, Christian Cuevas, Parmbir Khattra and Lydell King.
They delivered from beyond the arc to give the Lancers an early advantage. Cuevas was just warming up.
Down 26-21, Bell scored on a put-back to slice the lead. From there, Wirstlin buried a pair of 3s to put Manteca on top at the 3:25 mark of the second.
Briscoe followed suit, hitting two treys to spot his team with a 39-30 halftime lead.
“We caught fire (from the outside),” Bell said. “That opened it up for Jordan (Burciaga) and me.”
The Buffaloes continued to play a strong outside-inside game throughout most of the second half.
But then Cuevas got the hot hand.
“He had an unbelievable fourth quarter,” Hitt said.
Down as much as 21, the Lancers battled back as Cuevas hit 20 of his game-high 32 points during one stretch in which the lead was whittled down to nine, 70-61.
Bell, Rashawn Ballard, and Jacob DeJesus hit free throws to help ice the game.
“Nick is really coming into his own,” Hitt said of Bell, in preparation for the playoffs. “He has developed his skills and basic moves.”
Briscoe also had a solid game with 15 points, seven boards and a steal. Wirstlin added 14 points with four rebounds and a steal while Burciaga scored 11 — including a second-quarter dunk — coupled with four boards.
King had 17 points, four rebounds and a steal for the Lancers. Jason Steele came up six boards.
Manteca had a 40-29 rebounding edge over the Lancers, who kicked off the evening honoring their seniors.
Included were Cuevas, King, Khattra, Steele, Dominic Garcia, Christian Nuon, Nathaniel Saucedo, Edman Navasca, Marcus Sequeira, and Eric Victoria.