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Manteca claims first championship in 20 years
Manteca’s Nick Scheible takes a hard foul from Josh Martin on a fastbreak layup attempt. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
It was all about business Wednesday night at Winter Gym where Manteca avenged its only Valley Oak League blemish of the season with a workman-like 59-52 win over Sonora.

With the win, Manteca (12-1 VOL, 23-3 overall) captured at least a share of its first VOL title in 20 years, and with a victory at East Union Friday, the Buffaloes won’t be sharing anything with anybody.

“We’ve been talking about this since day one,” Manteca shooting guard Ernie Pimentel said. “Since the first practice we’ve wanted to put (the championship) up on the board (inside Winter Gym).

“Tonight we did that.”

Pimentel was beastly Wednesday as Sonora spent most of its defensive energy focusing on Nick Scheible and Kiwi Gardner (10 points, 4 steals, 3 assists).

With a few extra open looks, Pimentel took advantage, scoring 16 of his game-high 26 in the first half and capping both the first and second quarters with 3-point splashes.

“I just got open looks and I think I can make those kinds of shots,” Pimentel said. “The shots went down for me tonight, and it’s just a great feeling.”

With the game knotted at 23 apiece with two minutes left in the first half, Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion inserted Patrick Lamb to give Dominic Barnes (5 points, 7 rebounds) a breather.

Lamb came up with a huge play in his limited stint, drawing a crucial charge on Sonora power forward Brenden Evans (15 points).

The foul was Evans’ third, and moments after he took a seat on the Sonora bench, Pimentel swished home a trey from the top of the key with two defenders in his face.

After beating the buzzer and giving his team a 29-25 lead heading into the locker room, Pimentel turned to his bench with a scowl as Winter Gym erupted.

“Ernie had a little personal vendetta from (the last game in) Sonora,” Asuncion said. “He didn’t shoot well up there and we reminded him in practice jokingly. Tonight he came out and shot the ball like he can.

“He got open looks, but a lot of them he created himself. He just did a great job defensively and offensively.”

Asuncion was none too happy with Manteca’s defense in the first half, but said the Buffaloes effort on the defensive end improved in the third and fourth quarters.

With Sonora’s proliferation of athletic big men, the rebounding battle went the way of the Wildcats, but that didn’t stop Pimentel from finishing off a double-double with 10 rebounds.

“I can get up a little bit,” Pimentel said with a smile.

Scheible, who transferred to Manteca from basketball powerhouse Modesto Christian two years ago, finished the contest with 12 points and six rebounds and was all smiles afterward as Manteca cut down the nets.

“This is why I came here,” he said. “I felt we had a good chance last year when I saw Kiwi come in – I’ve never seen a freshman that good. I thought we’d win it last year, but I’m glad we got it this year.”

Manteca is currently No. 11 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II power ratings, and would travel to Benicia for the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.

No matter who the Buffaloes face in the first round, however, the sledding will get exponentially tougher from here on out.

“We’ll find out (how good we are) in a couple of weeks,” Scheible said. “I think we have the potential to go far in the playoffs. I think we’re a little underrated right now.”

Underrated. Overrated. For one night at least, none of the talk mattered.

The Buffaloes are back on top.