Brett Lewis clapped, picked up the game ball and joined his players for the traditional postgame handshake.
The reaction didn’t befit the accomplishment, but make no mistake about it — Lewis and the Manteca High boys basketball team are elated. The Buffaloes had just secured a berth to the CIF Northern California Division III Regional finals with their 60-54 win over third-seeded Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco at Winter Gym on Tuesday. They’ll take on Oakland powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd, the No. 8 seed, for the NorCal title at American Canyon High of Napa County on Saturday starting at 8 p.m.
Bishop O’Dowd is the state’s defending Open Division champion, but this is all a new experience for No. 2 Manteca (27-6), the oldest of five Manteca Unified high schools which have a combined zero NorCal final-round appearances — until Saturday.
“It’s unreal,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t feel real. I never really thought it was possible. I know we have a talented group of kids. We’re here, man. I really can’t wrap my head around it right now.”
Dwight Young was once again Manteca’s leading scorer, pouring in game-high 23 points that included three first-half 3s and six consecutive free throws in the final 40 seconds. “The little kid,” as Archbishop Riordan coach Rich Buckner called him, made the Crusaders (12-17) pay early on as they focused their defensive efforts on the 6-foot-9 tandem of Kenny Wooten and Anand Hundal.
Riordan was successful in limiting them offensively, but they were factors in other ways. The Nevada-bound Wooten contributed nine points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, while Hundal had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Hundal accounted for Manteca’s two field goals in the fourth quarter when the team shot 13 for 16 from the foul line. Tydus Verhoeven, a 6-8 guard-forward, added 11 points. The three combined for nine blocks and changed several other shots that Riordan attempted from the key.
“It was their size that hurt us,” Buckner said. “Once we lost our 6-4 post player (Jason Smith fouled out with 2:58 remaining) that really made it tough down the stretch to defend them. We had a plan to front the post and give good help on the weak side, and for the most part it worked.
“The little kid, Dwight Young, he’s a heck of a player,” Buckner continued. “He made some tough shots in the first half and in the second half he kind of put them over the top.”
It was back and forth throughout. Riordan took its largest lead at 15-9 after impressive sophomore guard James Chun drilled the first of his three first-half 3-pointers. He wound up with 19 points but had just two in the second half. Eddie Stansberry and Eric Galindo chipped in 10 points apiece. Galindo’s NBA-range 3-pointer with 33 seconds to go gave the Crusaders hope, closing them in, 56-54.
“We were in it until the last second. Our guys, we knew we were going to fight until the end,” Buckner said. “Our guys showed great character throughout the year. We’ve been battling size issues, health issues and we finally put it together. It’s like I always say, a sign of a champion is how you finish and we finished well this year.”
Manteca led 34-30 at halftime and never trailed from there, but the Buffaloes could not shake the scrappy Crusaders until the final seconds. A baseline jumper from Young early in the third quarter gave Manteca its largest lead at 38-30, but Riordan answered with a 6-0 run and forced seven turnovers in the third quarter thanks in large part to its bothersome press defense.
“You don’t want to speed up with the press, that’s what they want you do, you have to slow it down, look at what you have and then break it,” Verhoeven said. “We did good with the press in the end. We had to get it to our ball handler’s hands. We had to get it to Dwight.”
Young welcomes the pressure.
“I like the ball in my hands late in games,” Young said. “I have confidence in myself and I know my teammates have confidence in me.”