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Buffs take aim at 1st section title after ousting Los Banos
TEN--Los Banos-Manteca pic 1
Mantecas Stephania Mercado winds up for a backhand shot against Kiara Azevedo of visiting Los Banos in the No. 4 singles match Monday. - photo by Photo by WAYNE THALLANDER

A student from’s culinary arts program, Stephania Mercado served up the clinching point for Manteca High’s girls tennis team on Monday.

She dropped to her knees with hands covering her face after dispatching Los Banos’ Kiara Azevedo 6-2, 6-1 in the No. 4 singles match. The Buffaloes ended up winning 7-2, an appetizer for a historic main course.

Manteca (18-1) will compete for a Sac-Joaquin Section championship for the first time Wednesday, squaring off with Tri-County Conference champion River City (24-3) of West Sacramento. The title match is set for a 4 p.m. start at Oak Park in Stockton. It’s the third straight final-round appearance for River City, which lost to Central Catholic 5-4 in each of the previous two.

“I didn’t get to play last year because I tore my ACL in soccer,” Mercado said. “This match was emotional. For me going to, we have no sports programs. It was for these guys. I know they were rooting for me but I wanted it so bad for them. They want that championship ring.”

Two matches were ongoing as Mercado celebrated her victory. Gladis Sandoval, the team’s lone four-year player, warded off Chloe Emerson 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 in No. 5 singles. Manteca’s No. 3 doubles team of Monica Lozano and Prerna Singh iced the cake with a hard-earned 7-6 (5), 6-4 triumph over Bridget Lopez and Taylor Giampietro.

“I was thinking it was going to be 5-4 or 6-3 either way, so the 7-2 delights me,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said. “Stephania’s match was huge. We didn’t want it to come down to No. 3 doubles, so for her to finish that off really took the pressure off us.”

Western Athletic Conference champion Los Banos (21-1) suffered its only loss of the season. Three-time WAC singles titlist Shirley Liu defeated Manteca’s Taylor Corona 6-0, 6-1 at No. 1 singles. The Tigers also won at No. 2 singles, with Taylor Torongo beating Koryn Menasco, 6-0, 6-4.

The Buffaloes’ success has hinged on their depth, and it carried them to the section finals. No. 3 Julia Tang dispatched Haley Ballez 6-1, 6-1, and No. 6 Makenna Condit blanked Pam Weathers, 6-0, 6-0. Both Buffaloes are sophomores.

“Makenna started out doubles last year and was not thrilled to play singles, but she’s undefeated at No. 6,” Tolbert said. “She gives me a solid effort every time out.”

Rav Dhillon and Navina Mann secured Manteca’s first point in doubles play, routing Brooklyn Garcia and Zoe Seabock, 6-1, 6-1. Julianne Eavenson and Noeli Mercado followed with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Trinity Meza and Corie Falaschi.