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Manteca stakes early lead before cruising
Manteca junior Kiwi Gardner soars to the hoop for a pair during Manteca’s Valley Oak League victory over visiting Sonora Saturday. - photo by HIME ROMERO
After building a quick first-quarter lead, the Manteca High boys basketball team held its ground and took care of  Sonora 73-58 Saturday in Valley Oak League action.

Manteca (7-1 VOL, 13-5 overall) opened with a 19-point first quarter, most of which came in the first four minutes behind a pair of deep Kiwi Gardner 3-pointers and six quick points in the paint from E.J. Godfrey.

The Wildcats resorted to the long ball to stay within striking range, scoring more than half of their first quarter points on 3-pointers from Josh Martin and Alex Kiriluk. Sonora (5-3, 11-8) didn’t help its cause at the close of the period, going the final three minutes with only one basket.

The Buffaloes continued with their offensive success, opening the second period with a pair of miraculous layups from Gerry Cooper and Gardner, followed by an Ernie Pimentel layup and a Gardner three. The 9-2 run left Sonora down a dozen and playing with urgency after the game’s first 10 minutes.

“Defensively, we’re getting better and we’re doing things correct finally, but we still have little spells where we resort back to our bad habits,” Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion said. “For the most part I was pleased with how we performed. They slowed us down with their zone, so I was pleased at how we decided to attack the zone and find the open guy.”

Manteca outscored the Wildcats in every quarter and kept Sonora cutting into a double-digit lead for the entire second half. Late in the second period a basket by Mark Relei cut Manteca’s lead to nine, but Taylor Hasal put Manteca back in control on a four-point play where the sophomore swished the free throw after sinking a 3-pointer from the left wing.

Manteca used a balanced scoring attack to keep the pressure on the Wildcats, getting points from six different Buffaloes, with Gardner leading the way with 21. Cooper added a dozen and Godfrey finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds.

“We know that the more people that score the tougher it is for teams to defend us,” Asuncion said. “The teams are taking certain things away and we obviously have to counter that and have other guys score for us.”

Both teams made their Saturday debuts for this VOL season, giving both coaches a new wrinkle to prepare their teams for. Manteca and Sonora both struggled with intensity to open each half, but Manteca was the team to catch a spark first in both cases.

“We had a little walk-thru this morning and that really helped us get ready for the game,” Pimentel said. “We just talked about Sonora and what they run and how we were going to defend it. I think we played pretty well, but we always come out a little flat in the third quarter.
“We caught a little spark and were able to get things going.”

Manteca will continue VOL action with a trip to Oakdale to take on the Mustangs Wednesday.