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Manteca rolls behind 41 point effort from Gardner
Manteca standout Kiwi Gardner elevates for a reverse dunk during a crowd-pleasing attempt in Manteca’s 89-74 win over the host Cougars Saturday. - photo by HIME ROMERO
WESTON RANCH – Manteca High’s boys basketball team came into Weston Ranch’s gym with one purpose, and a offensive onslaught -- led by Kiwi Gardner’s 41 points – was more than enough to conquer its mission in a 89-74 Valley Oak League win Saturday.

The Buffaloes (12-1 VOL, 19-5 overall) used a balanced scoring attack to open the contest, getting buckets from five different players over the game’s first eight minutes. Manteca’s 18-point first quarter total would be its smallest of the game and only enough to close the period with a one-point lead.

The Cougars fought valiantly to stay close, with Jason Steele leading the way with a quick nine points including a huge 3-pointer to get the Cougars on the scoreboard after a 6-0 Manteca run to start.

Gardner picked up the pace in the second quarter, beginning with a pair of three-point plays, a 3-pointer and another three-point play giving Manteca a less-than-comfortable 41-33 lead.

Weston Ranch took its first and only lead of the contest mid-way though that second, when Buffaloe head coach Dave Asuncion was hit with a technical foul and Steele made both shots giving the Cougars a 29-27 advantage.

Manteca would close the period with a 14-4 run, all of which came from Gardner and senior Ernie Pimentel.

“Early on it seemed like everybody in our lineup was able to get a bucket,” Asuncion said. “We moved the ball, we found the open guy and we were able to get the shots that we wanted. They pressed us a lot and we broke the press and were able to get baskets at the rim.

“We are going to be happy with those every time.”

Weston Ranch had no yearning to give up their final meeting with the Buffaloes, giving Manteca its best shot coming out of halftime. The Cougars were able to get things going to the tune of 28 third quarter points, but even their best offensive production only chipped Manteca’s lead down to seven.

“I was really proud of the way they came out and played tonight,” Weston Ranch head coach Ryan Bono said. “We had three tough games this week, but I felt we pushed Manteca to the limit. Manteca is who they are, which is the best team in the VOL right now, in my opinion.

“And their record proves it.”

Gardner and Pimentel combined for 23 of Manteca’s 27 third quarter points. Pimentel closed out the contest with 25, while sophomore Taylor Hasal chipped in with nine. The Cougars were led by Steele and Moises who both closed out with 19 apiece. Moises also dominated on the glass, pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds, half of which came on the offensive end.

“As a team I think we played well,” a disappointed Moises said. “It’s just Kiwi is a heck-of-a player; he got his and we basically didn’t do what we needed to do.”

The Cougars (8-4, 12-11) came into the week with just one league loss, yet now find themselves in a battle to extend their season beyond VOL play. Manteca is resting in cruise control with a visit from the Sierra Timerwolves waiting on Wednesday.

“It’s almost working out perfect for us with our scheduling,” Asuncion said. “We started off with a light schedule early on where we had a lot of our home games, and now we are in the midst of the toughest part of our schedule.

“This will all help us prepare for heading into the playoffs.”