East Union had nothing to lose but played to win.
Even with some of their top players sitting to start the game in favor of the seniors, the Lancers hung tough with Valley Oak League champion Manteca for two and half quarters.
Nick Scheible helped save the Buffaloes from an upset loss, scoring 19 of his game-high 32 points in the second half to lead their 73-54 victory Friday at Dalben Center. The win clinched Manteca (13-1, 24-3 overall) the outright title, its first since 1989.
“Coach called it. He said they were going to come out and hit all their shots,” said Scheible, who also had eight rebounds and two blocks. “They couldn’t miss, you know. They wanted to go out on a high note and we were expecting it, but we just didn’t come ready to play until the second half.”
Manteca sophomore point guard Kiwi Gardner dazzled with his floor game, finishing with 15 points and 11 assists — including a highlight-worthy no-look dish to Scheible from the top of the 3-point arc with 3:06 left in the game. Gardner set up the pass by wrapping the ball around one leg while hanging in mid-air.
Dominique Barnes added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Buffaloes.
But it was Scheible’s play throughout that kept Manteca afloat at the start and ahead late in the game.
“In that zone he found the open spots, and he’s our best finisher around the hoop,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “Kiwi created a couple looks for him, too, so that helped.”
East Union (3-11, 4-21) battled valiantly in the first half, taking a 14-9 lead midway through the first before Manteca ended the quarter on a 10-2 run.
Ricky Inderbitzin nailed a 3-pointer 36 seconds into the second period for the Lancers’ final lead, 21-19. Gardner answered with seven straight points to push Manteca ahead for good.
It wasn’t until the 5:35 mark in the third, when Ernie Pimentel scored on a layup to make it 42-31, that Manteca stretched its lead to double digits.
“I think it just kind of hit us that this was our last game,” said East Union senior guard Marshall Swift. “Against crosstown rivals anything can happen, and I thought that we played our best half of basketball all year.”
Junior T.J. Brown paced East Union with 14 points, Swift checked in with 13 points and four assists and Inderbitzin recorded 11 points and six rebounds.
“Our guys played hard and I’m proud of the way they finished the season,” East Union coach Eric Simoni said. “What you do in a situation like that is you make the best of it, and we did that. We competed.”
The Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs begin Wednesday for Manteca, but against whom and where is still in question. The Buffaloes currently hold the 11th seed according the section’s playoff power ratings. The brackets will be revealed Sunday afternoon on the section’s website, www.cifsjs.org