The “S” word can now re-enter Manteca High’s vocabulary.
The Buffaloes did their part to set up Friday’s anticipated Valley Oak League showdown against rival Sierra by getting past visiting Ceres 77-66 on Wednesday.
“We obviously didn’t want to overlook Ceres, so we didn’t mention anything about (the Sierra game),” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “We finally talked about it after this game.
“(Facing) a great program like that at their place is going to be tough, but we’re excited about the challenge.”
Ceres (0-3, 5-10 overall) proved to be a worthy challenge in the first half after falling behind 9-0 at the start.
The Buffaloes (3-0, 14-2) took double-digit leads on three occasions in the second quarter, but Ceres trailed just 34-27 at halftime.
But it was all Manteca in the second half, which took its largest lead of the game at 73-49 on Nick Scheible’s fastbreak layup with 3:20 left.
“A few calls went against us, but I’m not blaming the officials. We’re the ones who shoot, pass and play defense, ” said Ceres coach Brian de la Porte, who aided the Buffaloes’ big third-quarter run by getting tagged with a technical foul for disputing a call.
“We just came out flat, and you can’t do that against a team like that. I truly believe we can play with everybody, we just have to put it together for four quarters.”
Manteca sophomore point guard Kiwi Gardner flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, nine assists and seven steals.
Manteca gave the Bulldogs fits in the post, outrebounding them 44-23. Scheible fired in 21 points and seven rebounds, and Dominique Barnes added 10 and 14. Back-up center Jorge Castro ripped down 10 of his own boards and turned in six points.
Martino Bertolotti caught fire late, scoring 12 of his team-high 21 points to lead Ceres. Lance Hunter contributed 15 points and nine rebounds.
Manteca shooting guard Ernie Pimentel celebrated his 17th birthday Wednesday but struggled to get shots off in the first half, missing his only field-goal attempt badly.
Pimentel was charged by the home crowd during the halftime shootaround, as he was welcomed back to the floor by a “Happy Birthday” tune.
He ended up with 10 points, five assists and four steals.
“They wanted me to shoot more, so I got a little more aggressive,” Pimentel said. “I was able to get open and hit some shots.”
Sierra hosts Manteca at 7:15 p.m. Friday.
In Oakdale, the Timberwolves (3-0, 11-4) had leads of 41-7 at halftime and 60-9 at one point in the fourth quarter in their tune-up for Manteca.
Sierra’s defense was so dominant, the officials called for a running clock in the fourth.
Christian Williams turned in yet another top-notch performance, this time dropping 29. Trevor Nogueira had 10, while both Serge Verretenikov and Chris Choate added seven.
With the Oakdale contest now out of the way, coach Scott Thomason and the T’Wolves can look forward to Friday night.
“We’re going to relish the underdog role,” Thomason said. “Manteca is a great team with great talent, we’re just hoping to hang with them.”
In Ceres, the host Hawks (1-2, 7-9) cooled off in the second half after a hot start but were able to hold on for their first VOL victory.
East Union (1-2, 2-13), which was down 34-20 at halftime, was led by Adrian Quant’s nine points. Tyler Bylow and Ricky Inderbitzin finished with seven apiece.
Robert Morgan paced Central Valley with 15 points, and freshman guard Keymonte Wooten had 13.
“We didn’t do a very good job on defense in the first half,” East Union coach Eric Simoni said. “We’ve done it many times before — we spotted our opponent an 8-1 lead tonight. We can’t afford to get into a hole like that.”