Loretta Kakala and the Manteca High girls basketball team dispatched one rival and appear ready for another.
Three players scored in double figures for the Buffaloes, who may have delivered Sierra High’s playoff hopes a death blow with a 50-36 victory on Wednesday evening.
Leah Manuleleua scored a game-high 15 points, Kakala rattled home 14 and sophomore guard Rubel Dehal provided balance with 11 as Manteca exploited the Timberwolves’ lack of size on the low block.
“We play big and we play really strong,” Manteca coach Maryann Tolbert said. “When we feed the ball inside, especially against a short team like that, there really is not a whole lot they can do defensively.”
The Timberwolves (5-12) have lost four straight games, and at just 1-4, appear out of the running for one of the Valley Oak League’s three Sac-Joaquin Section postseason berths.
“We needed it just for a morale boost. We’ve dropped (four) straight. Central Catholic was a clearly a game we should have won,” said Sierra coach Martha Spivey, referencing a 53-52 setback to the sub-.500 Raiders.
“We’re having a hard time putting it together right now and this would have been huge for us ... just to have that confidence boost.”
After a 2-2 start, the Buffaloes (11-7) have positioned themselves for a run of their own, which begins with an emotional tilt against East Union on Friday.
Kakala will make her first appearance at The Dalben Center since transferring from East Union.
Tolbert said Wednesday’s win gives the Buffaloes — and their All-Area forward — momentum going into an always hostile environment.
“Winning today was crucial for us,” she said, “in the long range of the season and for us to physically feel like we can go into that gym
“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of emotion taking Loretta back there. Friday is a big game for us, so this win was really important.”
Manteca and East Union scrimmaged each other earlier in the season, but Friday’s game is for real.
“Going back in there, I’m sure the crowd will play a huge factor,” Tolbert said. “She’s a 15-, 16-year-old girl. It’s stressful going back into that situation, but she’s confident in her ability.”
It was on full display on Wednesday.
Manuleleua and Kakala dominated the offensive glass and nearly outscored the undersized Timberwolves by themselves.
Manuleleua scored nine of her 15 points in the fourth quarter. During one stretch, she had seven straight points for the Buffaloes, who took a commanding 42-25 lead on her free throw with 3:15 remaining in the game.
Kakala, who had a bulk of her points in the first and third quarters, would foul out moments later, but not before registering another quintessential performance.
Sierra had no answer for the 6-foot-2 junior, who finished sat for long stretches in the first and second half with foul trouble.
Dehal helped pick up the slack. She had nine points in the second half, highlighted by a step-back 3 from the wing and a runner along the baseline.
“She has been struggling a little bit, so it was nice to see Rubel break out, get out of thinking in her head and play the game,” Tolbert said.
For most of the game, Sierra couldn’t get out of its own way.
The Timberwolves stormed the offensive glass in the first half, creating several second-chance points, but couldn’t snap a cold spell.
Sierra went nearly six minutes between field goals, mustered just two points in the second quarter and went 0-for-7 from the free-throw line in the first half.
After trailing by four in the first quarter, Sierra began to lost sight of the Buffaloes, who built an insurmountable 17-9 advantage at the break.
Kristen Maestretti had a team-high eight points, while Keanna Barber and Haley Silva had seven points apiece for the Timberwolves. The two combined for 11 of the team’s 16 fourth-quarter points.
Kayla Wilson opened the game with a 3-pointer to give Sierra its only lead, but was limited to just two points the rest of the way. As a team, the Timberwolves had just one 3.
“That’s been a problem all season, finishing our shots,” Spivey said. “We had wide-open layups and back-door opportunities that we missed. We couldn’t hit anything.
“You’re going to have nights like that, but it’s on your defense to step up. I thought we did a great job defensively in the first half holding them to 17 points, but we didn’t come out with the same intensity in the second half.”
Manteca 36, Sierra 24
Sierra led 10-9 after the first period, but was outscored by the visiting Buffaloes 20-10 over the second and third quarters.
J.J. Santos led Manteca with 12 points. Daisia Salazar paced the Timberwolves with eight.
Manteca 47, Sierra 26
Yolanda Tavares led all scorers with 14 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Manteca’s balanced attack.
Sarah Inderbitzin had nine points, Chandler Neiman seven, and Aliza Teixeira, Julianna Eavenson and Koryn Menasco had six apiece.