Noah Lyons and Ramesh Kabiri were part of a promising freshman class three years ago when Jason Hitt took over Manteca High’s boys basketball program.
They bought into Hitt’s tough-love approach and defense-first mentality, even when most others did not. On Friday, they were rewarded for their dedication. The senior tandem led the Buffaloes’ commanding 50-37 win over visiting rival East Union, clinching at least a share of the Valley Oak League championship.
Manteca (8-1 VOL, 21-5 overall) will go for the outright claim next Wednesday when second-place Central Catholic visits. East Union (5-4, 16-10), meanwhile, heads to Kimball in a battle for the third and final automatic Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
“Ramesh and Noah, that’s who I started with — that was my first incoming class,” Hitt said. “They’re the last two seniors that stuck with me. I’m a hard coach to play for, I know that, but I surround myself with really good coaches.
“It’s a great feeling for them, because they get to come back to the gym and see those numbers that they posted (on the team’s championship banner). And they got to do it the first year that the new gym has been open.”
It’s the 11th overall league title and first since 2017. To clinch it against its oldest cross-town rival made it even sweeter. The Buffs have won seven straight against East Union and 20 of their last 21 meetings.
In the latest showdown, Manteca nursed a 22-18 halftime lead but opened the third quarter with an 11-0 run. Lyons highlighted the one-sided 19-6 period with two and-1 conversions. East Union’s points came from two 3-pointers from its top player Dylan Lee, who was slowed by an ankle injury.
Lyons led all scorers with 13 points, and Lee finished with 11. The 5-foot-10 Lyons was often tasked with guarding the strapping 6-2 Lee in the post, but it’s a challenge he embraces.
“We work on defense every single day in practice,” Lyons said. “We probably (dedicate) an hour of our practices on defense. We focus on it a lot.”
Kabiri contributed nine points, four rebounds and three assists. Peyton Nieman and Evani Gaeta added eight apiece, and they each knocked down a pair of 3s.
For a team that is undersized in the post, scoring balance is as much a part of its identity as defense and rebounding.
“We have great players on our whole team,” Kabiri said. “Everybody can score, everybody can dribble, everybody can defend, everybody can do whatever it takes. We just have a great team.”
Hitt lauded assistants Dean Balcao and Bob Orr and lower-level coaches Geoff Israel and Jason Paul for helping him implement his system and getting the players to buy in.
“Defense and rebounding are going to win you championships,” Hitt said. “Offense is the fun part of the game, but we are keeping (opponents) down to about 10-12 points below their (scoring) average. They listened and they bought into it, and I think that’s the hardest part.”
Manteca 31, East Union 23
Jayden Scarver scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter of this low-scoring affair, as Manteca (8-1, 20-7) guaranteed at least a share of the top spot in league.
Tyler Watkins contributed with 10 points.
Manteca 42, East Union 31
The Buffaloes jumped out to a 20-7 first-quarter lead and cruised from there.
Evan White led them with 14 points, Anthony Abello had 10 and Antonio Farley pitched in with eight.