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Defense anchors Manteca victory
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Unhappy with his team’s defensive effort in its last outing, Manteca coach Brett Lewis challenged the Buffaloes tighten things up for their first-round contest with Merced in the Running with the Pack Tournament held at Cosumnes Oaks of Elk Grove on Thursday.

Manteca did just that, holding the Bears to single-digit scoring in every quarter but the fourth and prevailing 44-32 to improve to 7-2.

On Tuesday, the Buffaloes allowed two players to accumulate more than 20 points each in a 68-56 loss at Liberty Ranch. It’s the most points they’ve surrendered in a game so far this season.

“Can’t complain about holding a team to 32 points,” Lewis said. “They had one guy (Travis Pazin) who can shoot and we held him to three points. He lit up two teams in games we had film on, and we definitely didn’t want someone to score 25 on us again. There was more emphasis on defense, for sure. We had a good scouting report on them and the guys followed it perfectly.”

Defense was key for Manteca with its best all-around offensive player, 6-foot-6 sophomore Tydus Verhoeven, limited with an illness. Anand Hundal helped pick up the slack. The 6-8 center dominated inside, amassing 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. Adrian Contreras added 10 points for the Buffaloes. AJ Stewart had nine to lead Merced (6-4), which trailed 25-12 at halftime after scoring just five points in the second quarter.

“(Hundal) has been filling up the stat sheet,” Lewis said. “He’s been a huge anchor inside for us. He’s been putting up good numbers even while in foul trouble, but tonight he got a lot of minutes and definitely kept us ahead by securing rebounds and not letting them get second-chance opportunities. He had the five blocks but he alters a lot of shots inside.”

Manteca faces its toughest opponent of the early season tonight in tourney-host Cosumnes Oaks. The Wolfpack blasted Bradshaw Christian 90-45 in its first-round contest.

“Cosumnes Oaks is ranked 17th in Northern California, so it’s a big test for us,” Lewis said. “We’re still young, but a lot of guys are getting quality minutes against quality teams.”

Holiday Invitational

Weston Ranch 63,
 Clovis 50

The Cougars (3-1) are a win away from playing for the title in one of the state’s longest-running tournaments, which is in its 56th season.

Junior guard Fred Lavender had a breakthrough performance on the offensive end, leading the charge with 21 points to go with six rebounds. Jaelen Ragsdale finished with 12 points.

Another difference maker was Jordan Tauga, a 6-foot forward who matched up with 6-7 Kaleb Anderson on Thursday. Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said that Tauga’s defense and hustle helped ignite the team’s pivotal 17-4 third-quarter run.

“Jordan Tauga is an undersized big for us,” Teevan said. “Jaelen, Fred and Jazz (Swanson) get the press, but he’s our heart and soul. Their 6-7 kid scored 12 points in the first half but Jordan limited him in the second half. He was our backbone tonight. If we can get him going that might pick us up a notch.”

The Cougars take on Sunnyside (8-3) of Fresno in tonight’s semifinal round starting at 6:30.

Sophomore girls

Ripon Christian 42,
Merced 21

The Knights outscored Merced 21-5 for their resounding start to the Golden Valley Tournament.

Abby Buitrago burned the Bears for 22 points and 11 steals. Beth Weststeyn contributed eight points, and Lindsay Van Groningten had eight rebounds and five blocked shots.