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Washington leads charge to improve playoff chances
Manteca guard Sharon Washington poured in 23 points, including the Buffaloes’ final 11, to lead their much-needed 44-31 victory Thursday at crosstown rival Sierra. Additional photos are available to purchase on - photo by Photo by CHRIS LEONARD
Sharon Washington hit the big shot to help Manteca High’s girls basketball team beat Sierra the first time the two teams met, and she was at it again Thursday in the Valley Oak League rematch with postseason berths on the line for both squads.

The junior guard scored visiting Manteca’s final 11 points to finish with 23, and the Buffaloes escaped with a 44-31 victory for their fifth win in six games.

Manteca (9-5, 16-9 overall) torched Sierra’s zone defense by sinking seven 3-pointers, four from Washington, but struggled to get shots off in transition while having every shot inside the arc well contested in halfcourt sets.

Ahead 27-26 midway through the third, the Buffaloes extended the lead with a 10-1 run, and Washington picked up three fourth that she turned into breakaway layups.

“It just seemed like we were down, and I had to get us back up. I just tried to do my job,” Washington said.

Washington finished with five steals, seven rebounds and four assists to go with the 23 points. Davina Bennett had just two points but pulled down 11 rebounds, and freshman guard Mikayla Hasal chipped in with eight points.

Washington was limited to just 13 points when the crosstown rivals met on Jan. 19, but her layup with 16 seconds to go decided Manteca’s 39-37 win.

“Sharon was an animal out there,” Manteca coach Andrea Hiatt said. “She was our sparkplug offensively and defensively, and she’s on a mission right now. She wants to continue this season past next Thursday, and we know that each of these games is important for us.”

With second-place Sonora and league-leading East Union left on the schedule, the Buffaloes bettered their chances to get into the postseason with Thursday’s win. They are ranked 13th according to the second release of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff power ratings, and the top 16 teams qualify.

Sierra (6-8, 11-13) is No. 19 and wraps up the regular season next week with Central Valley and Weston Ranch.

“We have two games left, and our goal right now is to go 2-0,” Sierra coach Steve Unterholzner said. “That would be a nice finish to the season. If we make it (to the playoffs) great, if we don’t we don’t.”

Sierra hung tough Thursday without the services of forward Alysia Atkins, who suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s 44-18 loss at Oakdale.

Michelle Arroyo hit three 3-pointers to lead Sierra with nine points. Stephanie Vanni and Jasmine Currimao finished with seven each. The Timberwolves got hot from the perimeter in spurts but lacked a consistent threat in the paint.

“She was someone who turned into a real big scoring threat for us the last few weeks, so losing those points was tough,” Unterholzner said of Atkins. “It also threw a kink into our post rotation a little bit.”