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Gardner, Buffs prevail with 4th-quarter surge
Kiwi Gardner takes to the air for a layup. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The anticipated fireworks show started later than expected.

While brothers Kiwi Gardner and Keymonte Wooten sat on opposite benches for the entire first half for missing practice earlier this week, host Manteca and Central Valley drudged through two quarters of snail-paced basketball in their Valley Oak League opener Wednesday.

Gardner checked into the game three minutes into the second half, sparking a raucous applause from the Winter Gymnasium crowd.

Kid brother drew the same reception when he entered the game with 2:19 left in the third.

Game on.

With Manteca’s sophomore sensation in the rotation, the Buffaloes were able to snap out of their funk behind his 16 second-half points in what ended up being a 58-35 rout.

The favored Buffaloes (1-0, 12-2 overall) broke away with 10 unanswered points to start the fourth and outscored the visitors from Ceres 28-7 in the final period.

Wooten, a freshman point guard for Central Valley (0-1, 6-8), finished with four points in limited time, and his field goals were off high-arching, left-handed floaters from mid-range.

Gardner had his own usual highlights, including a 3-pointer from near the halfcourt circle early in the shot clock during the fourth.

In their few minutes on the floor together, Gardner and Wooten exchanged a few kind words as siblings normally would in a competitive environment.

“That’s my little brother, everything we do is competitive,” Gardner said. “Everything.”

And it was a competitive battle for three quarters between two teams fighting for “firsts” — Manteca for its first VOL championship in 20 years, and Central Valley for its first-ever postseason berth.

The Hawks’ game plan was obvious at the start, as they worked the shot clock on every offensive possession while challenging Manteca’s typically high-scoring attack to beat them from the perimeter by implementing a variety of zone defenses.

Central Valley guard Trevor Mew scored nine of his 15 points in the second quarter, and the score was tied at 14-14 at halftime.

“They did a great job of taking the air out of the ball, (and) it kind of frustrated us,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “In the second half we put a little pressure on them with the press, and they started taking quicker shots. That is more to our liking. We got more into a rhythm.”

Manteca’s sharp-shooting guard, Ernie Pimentel, found his groove after a slow start, as he hit three 3-pointers in the second half to account for most of his 13 points. He also had eight assists and six rebounds.

Nick Scheible was held to just nine points, all scored in the second half, and Dominique Barnes finished with eight points and seven rebounds.

“We ran out of gas a little bit,” Central Valley coach Darryl Dickson said. “I thought we did a great job for three quarters. The score was 30-28 after the third — exactly where we wanted it. We just fell apart in the fourth quarter.