Jake Danhoff didn’t start the game, but boy did he finish in East Union’s much-needed 50-43 win over visiting Manteca Friday.
The Lancers’ 6-foot-6 center was one of two juniors who gave up starting spots on senior night. He entered the game alongside Robbie Gloeckler at the four-minute mark of the first quarter. Danhoff ended up burning Manteca for 22 points, including 10 in the pivotal fourth quarter which started tied at 31-31.
“I was a little antsy to get in just because I love to play basketball, but I understand that it’s senior night,” Danhoff said.
A 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter gave East Union a 42-36 cushion — at the time the widest margin of this back-and-forth struggle. Later, Austin Haro kept Manteca within range, down 44-41, with a 3-pointer, but the Buffaloes were held without a field goal for the final 1:33. From that point on they were able to get the point-blank shots they wanted, but the visiting rim was unkind.
Justin Nieto’s acrobatic layup with 1:25 to go stretched the Lancers’ lead to 46-41, and he sank 3 of 4 free throws over the final 25 seconds to seal it.
“In a game like that it comes down to a couple key possessions, and we just couldn’t make the plays in the end,” Mantea coach Dave Asuncion said.
Danhoff had little trouble finishing around the basket. With he and the Lancers relentlessly attacking the key, they were able to get Manteca’s two 6-6 centers Nick Burrows and Michael Hatfield into foul trouble. Both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“Danhoff is the key guy we had to stop, and we had a tough time doing that tonight,” Asuncion said. Having those two guys in foul trouble made it even tougher for us.”
Nieto, one of five seniors honored Friday, contributed 16 points and five rebounds. Manteca was paced by Haro’s 17 points, and he drilled four 3-pointers.
The crosstown clash had playoff implications for both squads.
East Union (6-7 Valley Oak League, 17-8 overall) — which has an automatic berth already in hand for reaching the 15-win landmark — came into the week ranked 13th in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff power ratings but is shooting for a more favorable seed.
Like Manteca (6-7, 13-12), the Lancers were coming off back-to-back losses to Sierra and Weston Ranch, the VOL’s top two teams. They are looking to avenge an earlier loss to Sonora on the road in next Tuesday’s league finale, but Bud Castle Gym is always a tough place to play for opposing teams.
East Union coach Brett Lewis thinks the schedule makers may have done his team a favor by setting up a challenging closing stretch as it prepares for the postseason.
“We’re playing really good basketball right now,” Lewis said. “We battled with Sierra and we battled with Weston Ranch — two very good teams, and we were right there with them. The last five games have been like playoff games. Every single one of those games had big crowds like this, and we’re expecting the same in Sonora.”
Manteca is 14th but is now in danger of not qualifying altogether. On Tuesday, the Buffaloes face a dangerous Oakdale team on the road.
“(Oakdale) almost had us beat last time at our place, and fortunately for us they went cold in the fourth quarter,” Asuncion said. “We treated this one like it was a playoff game, and we figured we needed to get at least one of the two to get in. Now, Tuesday is a real big one for us.”
Manteca 33, East Union 27
Adrian Contreras scored 13 points for Manteca, which held off a second-half charge from East Union for the win. East Union trailed by seven at halftime but was down just 24-23 going into the fourth.
Gabe Chavez poured in 10 for the Squires.
East Union 35, Manteca 26
Austin Miller spearheaded a balanced effort for the Pages, scoring nine points. Marcus Panelo added eight, and Eric Flores had nine.
Tyler Graves and Frankie Lopez each turned in seven for Manteca.