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Laguna Creek repels Buffs; shoe drive yields over 75 pairs
GBSK--Laguna Creek-Manteca pic 2 LT
Laguna Creek defender Lei Haamoa Veimau tries to draw the charge as Mantecas Elizabeth Tolbert rises for the layup. - photo by Photo By Sean Kahler

Rubel Dehal and Elizabeth Tolbert had clean looks at the basket in attempts to force an overtime period, but both of their shots rimmed out in Manteca’s 43-40 loss to visiting Laguna Creek on Monday.

“We had the shots we wanted,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said. “The girls are executing what we draw up so that’s a good thing we can take away from this.”

With about 10 seconds remaining and the Buffaloes (5-3) down two, Dehal drove to the basket from the right wing but her uncontested layup rolled in and out. Seconds later, Arianna Alvarez hit one of two free throws to extend Laguna Creek’s lead.

Dehal took the inbounds pass and chucked it across the court to the open Tolbert, who was waiting near the left wing behind the 3-point line. The ball touched the rim twice before falling to the floor.

The Buffaloes, who had their three-game winning streak snapped, did well to stay in the game after trailing by as much as eight in the third quarter.

“We never gave up,” coach Tolbert said. “We just had those small moments where we blanked out and they capitalized on them. They made the best of every single little mistake we made.”

Dehal shared game-high honors with 13 points, and fellow sophomore guard Lejla Pepic contributed 10 despite foul trouble. 

Airahseli Chavez-Douglas paced the Cardinals (5-4) from Elk Grove with 13 points, six rebounds and four steals. Namaka Fernandez chipped in 10 points, and center Nikki Douglas collected six points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.

“They were killing us on the boards in the first half and in the second half they were attacking what was there for them,” Laguna Creek coach Cody Norman said. “Our girls were having a hard time of closing their penetration.

“We had the same game plan as them as far as attacking the rim in the second half. We got some calls our way and we were able to knock down some free throws.”

Both teams went through some lulls offensively after a back-and-forth start. The Buffaloes scored six straight points at one point to stake their largest lead at 11-6, but Laguna Creek held a 16-15 advantage going into the second quarter. Manteca was held to just two points over the first five-plus minutes of the second. The Cardinals endured a 4-minute, 30-second scoring drought in the third but still led, 34-29, when Chavez-Douglas ended the slide.

“We struggled a little bit with our offense today,” Tolbert said. “We came out hot and it just kind of dwindled. We’re still looking for that consistency. Hopefully we can put it together real soon.”

The nonleague contest, dubbed Character Combine Donation Game, doubled as a shoe drive benefitting student from Rosa Parks Middle School in Sacramento. Spectators who brought in used or new shoes received discounts off admission. More than 75 pairs of sneakers were donated.

It was also a homecoming of sorts for Norman, who coached Manteca’s varsity girls squad the last two years. Both coaches, who were barefoot for Monday’s game, aim to make this an annual event between the two programs.

“It’s a good way to give back and both of us coaches believe in the character aspect of sports,” Norman said. “It was definitely an odd game for me personally just being back to what is my second home. The support for me didn’t die down because I’m wearing a different color.”