Roll on you Buffs.
As a former coach at a school of a different color in town – some have even called me a blueberry – the odds of me using the above mantra could have been considered slim. But as sportswriters, color blindness is a necessity as we never know what color the post-season wagon is that we are hitching to. It could be red, blue, maroon, black – or in this case green as the Manteca basketball team has made history, being the first squad from this city to win a Northern California Regional Championship.
But the Buffaloes did not just win that championship, they commandeered it. Facing defending CIF Open Division champion Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland on Saturday, Manteca and the Dragons went toe-to-toe for 16 minutes with countless lead changes and ties leading to a one-point halftime lead for the Buffaloes. No team led by more than four points in the first half but that was about to change – quickly. Manteca punched the Dragons in the nose with a 5-0 run to start the third quarter and things only got better for the Green Machine from there.
Much has been written about the Buffaloes’ big three – 6-foot-8 Tydus Verhoeven and 6-9 Kenny Wooten Jr. and Anand Hundal – and justifiable so. The towering trio accounted for 50 points, 32 rebounds six blocks and two steals Saturday night.
And there is dynamo point guard Dwight Young. Listed at 5-11 – and that is a very generous listing – Young plays as tall as he is listed and then some. He helped Manteca find the way to American Canyon with an off-the-charts fourth quarter – 18 points in the final 3:30 – in the Buffalloes’ quarterfinal win over Albany.
But a basketball team is five guys, and that fifth slot has been somewhat of a revolving door this season depending on the situation, and the same was true Saturday night. Matt Ender and Angel Perez spent a good part of that time in slot No. 5, and while Ender only had a point, he made two plays away from the ball helped Manteca slay the Dragon once and for all.
With time running down in the third quarter, Ender made a steal and while stumbling – the Bishop O’Dowd crowd was screaming for a traveling call – he got the ball halfway down the court to Young for a buzzer-beating layup and Young’s first points of the night.
And then in the middle of an 8-0 Buffaloes run to start the fourth period, Ender was driving for the basket and appeared to lose the ball out of bounds. Somehow he saved the ball back to Wooten Jr. who leapt to retrieve the save, pulled the ball down and converted it into a 10-foot field goal.
“My hands were real slippery,” Ender said. “I really didn’t have a good hold on the ball and I knew when it was going out of bounds I had to try and save it. So I threw it to Kenny – and shoot, he can jump out of the gym – he jumped, got it and made the shot.
“That was a big momentum changer.”
That may not have changed the momentum, but it definitely kept it going the right direction is. The question is, can Manteca keep it going the same direction?
Come Thursday afternoon at 4, the Buffaloes square off with Ayala of Chino Hills for the CIF Division III Championship at Sleep Train Arena. At 33-3, the Bulldogs should prove to be a formidable opponent, maybe even daunting. But that will be nothing new for Manteca.
“We have played way too many close games this year,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said on Saturday night. “Whether it was teams we should have been blowing out or not, good teams too, it has helped us a ton. We have been comfortable in situations like this because we have played in a lot of tight games – especially in the VOL where we played in a lot of loud gyms – so I don’t think the gym affected us that much.
“The VOL definitely prepared us for this and so did our schedule. We played a tough schedule and I think that is why we were so successful tonight.”
So roll on you Buffs. Win it for the town. And although I do not often invoke anything that has to do with the Raiders, the late Al Davis said it best: “Just win, baby.”