The Valley Oak League race for the championship has begun.
Weston Ranch upset defending champion Manteca 65-54 on the road Friday to remain alone atop the standings at 2-0 (6-7 overall) through the first week of regular-season play. The Cougars had a bye on opening night Tuesday.
Manteca (9-5) is tied with Sierra and Sonora for second place with 2-1 league records. Sonora beat Ceres 47-36 on Friday but lost to Sierra in the conference opener. Sierra was defeated by East Union 67-64 Friday.
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” Weston Ranch coach Ryan Bono said. “We played a tough preseason (schedule) and lost to some great teams, but it got us ready for the VOL. Beating a solid Manteca squad tonight really helps us with our confidence.”
Weston Ranch nursed a 12-10 lead after the first quarter but erupted for 27 points in the second to Manteca’s 10, using its bothersome press to force turnovers and create easy scoring opportunities.
Manteca struggled to break through Weston Ranch’s defense without its one-man press breaker and leading scorer Kiwi Gardner, who is serving the third of a four-game suspension laid down by the Sac-Joaquin Section for making contact with an official while disputing a call during a non-league contest.
The Buffaloes outscored Weston Ranch 24-17 in the fourth, but the damage had already been inflicted.
“Weston Ranch is real athletic and we got careless with the ball,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “It wasn’t just in their press, but also in halfcourt. They pressured the ball and we got caught going up and down the court with them.”
The Cougars’ defense led to a balanced scoring effort. Jason Steele paced the team with 16 points, while Marcus Woods and John Carungay pumped in 10 apiece. Ronnie Collins, Nate Moises and CharRay Poole chipped in eight each.
Manteca was spearheaded by Ernie Pimentel’s 24 points, and post players Gerry Cooper and E.J. Godfrey each had nine.
“We have four guys averaging around nine points a game,” Bono said. “We don’t have a dominant offensive player, so our team is set up to have balanced scoring. When we get that it’s huge for us. I’ll take that any day of the week.”
Umar Muriset scored 16 points to lead Lathrop. Oakdale was led by forward Nate Madsen’s 19.