Ben Juarez knocked down a jump shot to give Kimball its first lead in the second half with 22 seconds left in Wednesday’s crucial Valley Oak League contest at Manteca High’s Winter Gym.
It didn’t last long.
After missing his initial attempt, Manteca center Michael Hatfield scrambled to regain possession of the ball and hit all net on with a baseline jumper with about 6 seconds remaining. Miguel Lopez then stole the ball near midcourt to secure the Buffaloes’ thrilling 66-65 victory.
“I got hit on the arm on the first shot, but luckily Tydus (Verhoeven) was hustling and tipped it right back to me,” Hatfield said. “It feels good. More than anything it just feels good to win.”
Manteca (6-4 VOL, 14-9 overall) is now on a three-game winning streak and swept its season series with Kimball to earn a head-to-head advantage. With Sierra already clinching a third straight VOL championship, the Buffaloes, Lathrop and Weston Ranch are in a three-way tie for second and only two of them get to move onto the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. Lathrop has swept Manteca, which will look to do the same to Weston Ranch on the road this Friday.
Hatfield and Lopez keyed Manteca in the second half Wednesday, as they both scored 11 of their 15 points over the final two periods. Hatfield also had 12 rebounds and four assists, while Lopez swiped four steals. Eight different Buffaloes scored, with T.J. Muhar and Austin Haro (four assists) both chipping in eight points and six rebounds.
Late turnovers nearly doomed Manteca, which led 64-59 with 3:13 to go following two Hatfield free throws. That was during a near-five-minute stretch in which the Buffaloes failed to make a field goal.
Manteca’s coaches looked to Hatfield to end the drought.
“We just wanted to get Mikey the ball,” assistant coach Brett Lewis said. “In a big-game situation Mikey is our guy.”
Lewis and fellow assistant Ryan Bono called the shots for the majority of the game after head coach Dave Asuncion was ejected with 2:11 remaining in the second quarter. Luckily for Manteca, its assistants have eight years of varsity head coaching experience; Lewis spent the last four seasons leading East Union across town, while Bono was in charge of the Weston Ranch program from 2008-09 to 2011-12.
“It’s a little tough,” Lewis said of taking over on the fly. “It’s something that you’re not mentally prepared for so you kind of have to take a step back and look at what’s going on before completely getting back into it.”
While the assistants picked up where Asuncion left off, the players were further motivated by the ejection.
“That got us pumped up,” Lopez said. “We wanted to win for coach (Asuncion).”
Credit Kimball (4-6, 14-9) for answering Manteca’s every rally. Neither team led by double digits, the Jaguars were down 40-31 at one point in the third before scoring seven straight points.
Manteca had trouble containing nimble point guard Jonah Laguana, who led all players with 23 points. His ability to penetrate Manteca’s defense at will opened up scoring opportunities for himself and teammates. Juarez contributed 15 points for Kimball, and J.D. Schmidt had 13. The Jaguars, who can light it up from the perimeter, were limited to five 3-pointers.
“They have a couple of guys who can attack the rim really well and a couple of guys who can shoot really well,” Lewis said. “It’s a catch-22, you know. Are you going to let them shoot 3s all day or are you going to give them 2s? The defense could have been better but we’d rather give up layups than open 3s.”
Kimball 59, Manteca 37
Ryan Brock was the Buffaloes’ lone double-digit scorer with 11 points. Manteca fell to 7-3 in league and 10-10 overall.