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Playoff berth may hinge on VOL finale
Manteca center Dallas Mould lays it up but is challenged by Sonora’s Brittany Malone. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
There is much more than bragging rights riding on Thursday’s rubber match with rival East Union.

Manteca High’s girls basketball team is in a tough spot after losing 57-33 to Sonora at Winter Gym Tuesday.

Sonora (10-5, 15-11 overall) took sole possession of second place in the Valley Oak League with Oakdale losing to playoff hopeful Weston Ranch, and the Buffaloes (9-6, 16-10) are in must-win mode against East Union, the conference’s four-time defending champion.

Manteca stunned the Lancers 52-47 during the Tracy Tournament in December, but East Union evened the score in their first league meeting with a 59-49 win. East Union is riding a 32-game winning streak at home going into the final regular-season contest.

“We don’t have a lot of time to cry about (the loss),” Manteca coach Andrea Hiatt said. “There’s more basketball to play.”

With only 16 teams advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs, Manteca came into the contest ranked 13th in the postseason power ratings. Oakdale is 11th, Sonora 15th and Weston Ranch 18th with East Union leading all VOL teams at No. 6.

“It was very important for us (to win),” Sonora coach Lloyd Longeway said. “Manteca is always tough and we have so much respect for them.

“Now we have another huge one against Oakdale. They beat us last time (50-41) and it’s going to be our senior night.”

The Wildcats had their way with Manteca inside and out Tuesday thanks in large part to the play of Kelli Keefe, who finished with 17 points and six assists. The junior point guard spearheaded the charge early on, hitting a 3-pointer to beat the 35-second clock then going coast to coast with 2 seconds remaining after intercepting a pass to give her team a 16-4 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Keefe’s prowess in the perimeter opened things up for her teammates elsewhere. Post Amanda Tye chipped in 15 points, and Larissa Rosenfield added 10. Tori Selesia finished with eight points and four steals, and 6-foot center Brittany Malone grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and changed several more.

“We don’t match up well against them for some reason,” Hiatt said. “They have big players, but there’s no excuse, they put it to us tonight.

“Defensively we did not have an answer for them. We mixed it up and tried different things.”

Defense was again the difference for Sonora in its rematch with Manteca. Sonora coasted in similar fashion, 54-34, when it hosted the Buffaloes Jan. 23, and in both cases defense led to high-percentage shots on the other end.

Standout Manteca guard Sharon Washington was held to 12 points, and freshman Mikayla Hasal finished with eight.

Manteca committed 28 turnovers, and unforced errors were momentum killers every time the Buffaloes found a way to get back into the game. Hasal hit a 3-pointer midway through the second to close Manteca in 22-13 before Sonora answered with a 6-0 spurt.

The Buffaloes threatened to cut the double-digit deficit in the third with the score at 36-26, but Sonora closed the period with a 13-4 run.

“I thought we did a really good job on the defensive end tonight,” Longeway said. “We were able to switch defenses pretty well, and whatever we ran worked for us.”