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Buffs give 1st-place Oakdale a scare in 5-game thriller
VB--Oakdale-Manteca pic 1
Manteca Highs Destanie Elliott (10) and Payton Reis try to deflect the tipped ball from Oakdale outside hitter Kyla Cole. - photo by Photo By Sean Kahler

This time, Manteca made Oakdale earn the victory, and the Buffaloes nearly pulled off the upset in Tuesday’s showdown between the Valley Oak League’s top two teams. 

After dropping the first two tightly-contested sets, Manteca rallied to force a fifth before falling in a heartbreaker, 24-26, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 12-15.

The Buffaloes (7-3 VOL, 11-8 overall) appeared to be in control with a 7-2 lead in the deciding set. Oakdale (10-0, 17-9), which hadn’t been in a fifth game all season, worked its own comeback magic in the end, scoring the final six points to escape Winter Gymnasium with its perfect VOL record still intact.  Shaye Spani punctuated the run with the match-ending kill.

It was a rare opportunity lost for Manteca, which hasn’t beaten the Mustangs in more than a decade. It was also a chance for it to close in on the VOL leaders. Manteca hasn’t earned a league title since winning five in a row from 1987-91. With four matches remaining, Oakdale can clinch at least a share of a second straight VOL championship with one more win.

“Of course it was sad that we lost,” Manteca’s Morgan Miramontes said. “We played a really great game, probably one of our better games.”

Miramontes took this loss tougher than others. The fourth-year varsity senior, after all, hadn’t come this close to tasting victory against Oakdale. She did her part Tuesday, leading the Buffaloes with 12 kills, 12 digs and five aces.

“It’s been a long time coming for her,” Manteca coach Kevin Bolding said. “She’s worked hard for four years and now it’s starting to pay off. It’s tough when you work that hard and you don’t see (results). She’s a great athlete and does a great job all around for us.”

Freshmen Kacy Bolding (five kills, 15 assists), Kaitlyn Morenzone (seven kills, 18 digs) and Payton Reis (13 kills) were also instrumental. Junior middle blocker Destanie Elliot contributed six kills and six blocks.

It was a drastic turnaround from the first time these two clubs met in Oakdale, with the Mustangs having their way with Manteca in a routine sweep, 25-9, 25-17, 25-14. Manteca gave them all they could handle in the rematch. Oakdale coach Heather Gonzales said her team’s failure to put Manteca away earlier in the contest made it the match that it was.

“The emotions can turn a game either way,” she said. “Manteca has improved greatly and they made us work that much harder. It’s great for us in a way because it pinpointed things we need to work on.”

It didn’t take long for the Buffaloes to realize they could compete.

Down 11-20 in the first game, they managed to fight their way back into it and tied it at 24-24 on a Morenzone ace. Spani’s block gave Oakdale back the lead, and the visiting squad took the opening set after a Manteca hitting error.

“After the first time we played them we definitely needed to be competitive,” Bolding said. “Just the first game changed the whole outlook. It kind of let us know that we’re right there. We could do this if we want to.”

Undeterred, Manteca raised its level of play in Game 2 and never trailed until Oakdale standout Lauren Ott (14 kills, seven blocks, 34 digs) blasted a kill from the back row to give the Mustangs the 21-20 lead. They ended the game with three successive kills from Kyla Cole, Abigail Matoso and Ott.

That may have discouraged Manteca in the past, but not on this night.

“We could have just mailed it in and been on our way,” Bolding said.

Manteca instead outplayed the Mustangs for much of the third set, taking a 23-15 at one point following a stuff block from Elliott. Oakdale threatened to steal the game by scoring eight of the next nine points.

The Buffaloes did not let up in the fourth despite trailing 6-1 early on. Kacy Bolding served two consecutive aces to inch them closer 10-9, and Miramontes later had back-to-back aces to help Manteca build an 18-14 lead. It was fittingly Miramontes who sent the match to a fifth game, ending the fourth with an emphatic kill.

“We just have to play like we did tonight in every game,” Miramontes said. “We played strong defense, played together.”

The Buffaloes are looking to end a four-year playoff drought and could do so by finishing in the top three in league. They also haven’t finished with a winning record since 2008. Manteca heads to Sierra on Thursday with a tough match with Central Catholic looming. The Raiders swept the first match in Modesto on Oct. 1.

“We still control our own destiny” coach Bolding said. “All that did was take us out of (the running for) first.”