LATHROP — Coming off three straight losses in the unforgiving Gold Division of the West Coast Jamboree, Manteca had a tough assignment to begin Valley Oak League play on Wednesday.
Plagued by turnovers and sloppy play in the first half, much of it due to Lathrop’s pressure defense, the Buffaloes got on track and rallied for 14 unanswered points to start the third quarter en route to a much-needed 54-45 win.
“It feels so good, so relieving,” Manteca guard Sydney Fryer said. “We were really worried about our chemistry, but we came together, worked together as a team and communicated well to get the win.”
Fryer did her part, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Louisville-bound standout Loretta Kakala scored 13 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, adding eight rebounds and three blocks. Not a bad outing considering she didn’t take a shot until hitting a wing jumper with 5:47 to go in the second quarter.
“We were playing excellent defense, denying Loretta the ball, trying to make sure she caught everything away from the basket and had as little help as possible when she did it,” Lathrop coach Dwayne Davis said.
Lathrop (0-1 VOL, 7-6 overall) couldn’t contain Kakala for long, and she got more than enough help along the way.
Manteca (1-0, 4-8) has struggled in getting its top two players to mesh with the rest of the team after Fryer (knee) and Kakala (ankle) missed a chunk of the Buffaloes’ pre-league games with injuries.
“I told them in the last tournament we played that they had to learn how to not play for Loretta but with Loretta,” Manteca coach Ryan Bono said. “We’re four games deep with Loretta and Sydney together so they’re still learning to play with them. They need to know that Loretta can’t beat everybody, we have to do it as a team.”
They were able to sort it out after halftime. The Buffaloes had more turnovers (18) than points over the first two quarters and trailed 23-17 before finding their groove. They scored just six seconds in on a well-executed play that allowed Kakala to get an easy bucket in the post.
Fryer later scored on a put-back with 4:40, giving Manteca a 24-23 lead it would never relinquish. It only got worse for Lathrop after a timeout, as Fryer stole the inbounds pass and converted a three-point play to continue the Buffaloes’ roll. Malia Parangan hit two free throws to cap the 14-0 flurry that widened to gap to 31-23.
Manteca was a different team coming out of the break. It didn’t commit a turnover for the first five-plus minutes of the third period. Lathrop was outscored 18-6 in the quarter, getting its first points on three free throws from Myani Thornton. Ryleen Crull ended the Spartans’ drought from the field with a 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go.
“We weren’t doing what we’ve been practicing as a team for two months (in the first half),” Bono said. “That’s literally all I said at half, and they responded well.”
The Spartans, down 35-29 after the third, did well to stay in the game, cutting the deficit to three on three occasions in crunch time. Manteca put them away for good with an 8-0 run punctuated by Kacy Bolding’s and-one play.
Lathrop did go out with highlight from freshman guard Kaiya Thornton, who buried a 30-foot 3-pointer in the closing seconds. She contributed 10 points for the Spartans. Mary Cotton also had 10 to go with eight rebounds. Gurveen Bal made three 3s and paced Lathrop with 11 points but was shut out in the second half. Danya Phillips added five points, 10 steals, eight blocks, four assists and two blocks.
Late in the second quarter, the Spartans led by as much as 10, 23-13, thanks to an 11-0 run buoyed by two treys from Cotton and another from Bal, but two turnovers in the final minute allowed Manteca go into the break with some momentum.
Jasmine English got the Buffs going with a runner then assisted Simran Kaur’s layup.
“It was huge, because I believe if we would have gotten up to double digits (by halftime) they would have had to change a lot of what they were trying to do,” Davis said. “I thought our girls played their butt off, we were just caught out of position a few times defensively.”
Lathrop 26, Manteca 23
Kashara Gray and Iyanna Knight scored nine and eight points respectively for Lathrop. Kaleah Sanders led Manteca with 11 points, while Savannah Alvarez chipped in eight.