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Buffaloes Bounced
Mantecas upset bid falls short to Vista del Lago
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FOLSOM – Ernie Pimentel nailed a 3-pointer with 15.8 remaining to pull Manteca High within six, but that would be as close as the Buffaloes would come in its 68-62 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championship loss to Vista del Lago Friday.

Pimentel led a ferocious first-half Manteca attack, which had the Buffaloes up by seven at the 3:52 mark of the second period. Pimentel scored eight first-quarter points, helping Manteca close with a 15-11 lead. The No. 2 seed Eagles would fight back, claiming a 30-29 lead at the intermission.

The Buffaloes (23-6) opened the contest with an urgency that gave a rowdy Eagle home crowd reason to try and encourage their squad. That urgency seemed to derail in the third period, as Vista del Lago opened on a 12-3 run and held Manteca to just two field goals the entire quarter.

“We came out working hard and executing on both ends,” Pimentel said after the loss. “In that third quarter we let down a little. We started making costly mistakes and pretty much fell apart.

“We tried to get back in it, but it was too late.”

Pimentel and backcourt mate Kiwi Gardner handled the bulk of the Buffaloe scoring, combining for 44 points and all but four of Manteca’s points in the fourth quarter. A determined run late was cancelled out by Vista del Lago’s pristine execution in their most important quarter of the season.

“We have been a better second-half team all year,” Vista head coach Jeff Bridges said. “Manteca is good man, they’re really good, so we knew they would have spurts; we knew they would score. We were just hoping to get stops.

“We hang our hats on our defense and I thought we did a good job.”

Gardner drew the attention of the Eagles’ best defender, Jaquai Wiley, as well as the attention of the entire student body cheering section. Any and every time the Buffaloes’ leading scorer touched the ball, the crowd was sure to make loud note of it.

Gardner scored 16 of his 24 in the second half, but could only manage three free throws in the pivotal third quarter. Manteca senior Gerry Cooper finished in double-digits with 10. Vista’s leading scorer Hayden Lescault barely reached his 19 points per game average, scoring 20, yet played a key role in the Eagles’ decision making in crunch time.

“We could have done better contesting open shots,” Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion said. “We gave up a couple of open looks to their shooters, we knew who the shooters were, but they still got open. We just didn’t execute when we had the chance.

“They did a great job. That is a team that has been together for a long time and it shows.”

Gardner was left coping with his first loss since Dec. 28, 2009, closing out a season which landed the junior standout more attention than he cared to garner.

“I think that they were an excellent ball club,” an emotionally drained Gardner said. “But my team was plain and simple better.

“I really feel like we should have won that game.”