Trailing Central Catholic by nine points with two minutes left in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, Manteca came to life behind a 7-0 run and narrowed the deficit to two points with 14 seconds remaining.
Elijah Nelson snagged a rebound five seconds later to give the Buffaloes a chance, but a 3-pointer that rimmed out with three seconds left was followed by an attempted put-back that met the same fate to give the visiting Raiders a 46-44 win.
Santiago Sanders (six points) got the Manteca’s late-game rally going with a put-back to make the score 46-39 with 1:38 showing on the clock. Micah Crawford drew Manteca (8-2 VOL, 22-6 overall) within 46-41 with just less than a minute remaining on a field goal.
Nelson grabbed the rebound with 36 seconds remaining when the Raiders missed the front end of a one-and-one. Crawford followed that with a field goal and then with 14 seconds left Ramesh Kabiri added a free throw for make the score 46-44 and that is as close as the Buffaloes would come.
Central Catholic’s nail-biting win gave the Raiders a share of the Valley Oak league title with Manteca.
“Even though we always play hard against CC — they are really good — both of us had guys missing tonight,” Manteca coach Jason Hitt said. His Buffaloes were without shooting guard Peyton Nieman, while standout freshman Wesley Payne was out for Central Catholic.
“It was a very ugly basketball game,” Hitt added. “We threw out that gimmick zone (defense) with a triangle-and-two, and (Raiders coach) Mike (Wilson) figured it out, and his guy that doesn’t play very much (Arthur Avila) hit two big 3-pointers from the corner in the fourth quarter. I think he has hit three all season.
“The bottom line is we had a shot to win it and we didn’t. I was happy we were in it and got a good look at the end. They have almost become our rivals this league since I have been here. I tip my hat to them. They by far deserve a co-championship with us and great job by them.”
Due to injuries, Wilson changed his defense around.
“First of all, it was a game of injuries,” Wilson said. “Both teams had guys out and that changes the chemistry for both teams. We had to go to a zone to keep them out of the key. They are very smart running their offense, they will take the whole game and run the clock down every possession. We knew that was coming, so we figured we might as well zone them and keep them out of the key.”
The Raiders’ Malachi Miller led all scorers with 20 points and dominated in the paint with 13 rebounds, including eight in the third period.
“He had a heck of a rebounding game,” Wilson said of Miller. “We have had a season where we had games where we would build up a lead and then the other team would come back. At least we know not to panic too much and how to play in tight games now.”
Noah Lyons led Manteca with 16 points.
Both teams will now wait until Saturday to learn their post-season fate when the Sac Joaquin Section announces the playoff brackets.
Central Catholic 30, Manteca 28
With the Buffaloes needing a win for an outright VOL championship, Manteca was outscored 13-10 in the final quarter and posted two turnovers in the final 17 seconds to force a share of the league championship with the Raiders.
Tyler Watkins scored the 11 points for the Buffaloes.
Manteca 55, Central Catholic 42
The Buffaloes outscored the Raiders 31-15 in the second half for the come-from-behind win.
Manteca posted two players with double-doubles – Anthony Abello (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Jesus Gomez (11 points, 12 rebounds, four assists). Robert Hevener flirted with a double at eight points and seven rebounds and Cooper Chamberlain chipped in five assists.