Outsized at every position, Manteca found ways to overcome visiting rival East Union and 6-foot-3 center Donja Payne on Wednesday.
The fourth-year Lancers standout came into the first-place battle averaging 24.3 points through three Valley Oak League contests but was limited to a quiet 11 points, and the Buffaloes stampeded to an emphatic 60-39 win.
“The entire game plan was focusing on Donja and rebounding.,” Manteca coach Ryan Bono said. “We switched up our defense late in the first quarter and we stuck to it the rest of the game. It was almost a double-team on Donja and force them to take tough outside jumpers. Our guards had to close out hard on their (perimeter shooters) and we had two girls on Donja at all times.”
Payne, of course, still impacted the game. She collected 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, and the attention she drew allowed 5-10 sophomore forward Ala Tuuga to shine. She finished with 16 points and eight boards, but the Lancers (3-1 VOL, 12-6 overall) couldn’t get much offensive production elsewhere to keep up with the speedier and more balanced Buffaloes (4-0, 13-6).
“Teams are going to try and take away Donja and that’s fine — we’re aware of it,” East Union coach Jim Agostini said. “Everyone knows where we’re trying to go (with the ball) but we have other things we can do. I thought Ala had a real good game for a freshman. You tip your hat to Manteca. They made the shots and outworked us. Simple as that.”
Jayda Jackson led three Manteca players in double figures with 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Marissa Serrano fired 17 points, and they each drained three 3s. Sophomore Kyaira Jacobs scored 11 of her 12 points in the first half and distributed four assists.
Jackson found her shooting touch in the second half after going scoreless in an inconsistent first quarter for both teams. Manteca opened with a 9-2 lead, but East Union ended the period on a 10-0 run.
“We have more than one scorer,” Jackson said. “I know that if I keep passing the ball, I’m going to get it back. I just had to be patient and wait my turn.”
She hit some key baskets that helped the Buffaloes distance themselves. They came out of halftime with a 27-23 lead, and Jackson buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key just 13 seconds into the third quarter.
She later anchored Manteca’s finishing 9-0 flurry, scoring six of those points including a buzzer-beating baseline jumper. Jackson inbounded it to Jacobs on the final play of the third quarter and got it right back. That pushed the Buffs to a 42-31 advantage and they continued to pour it on down the stretch.
The Jackson-Jacobs combo struck again with the same give-and-go inbounds play in the fourth quarter. This time it resulted in a made 3-pointer from the corner for Jackson, and a run of 11 unanswered points iced it for Manteca.
It wasn’t just Manteca’s guards who gave East Union fits. Bono lauded the efforts of starting center Paige Peterson and sophomores Jaslyn Woods and Jadyn Nieman.
Woods is a guard forced to play more in the post for the Buffaloes, and she contributed six points and 11 rebounds despite sitting out the entire second quarter with foul trouble. Nieman came off the bench and grabbed three of her four rebounds on offense. Peterson pulled down eight rebounds and scored four points while protecting the paint as Manteca employed various zone defenses to neutralize Payne.
Despite a considerable disadvantage in size, Manteca held a 32-31 rebounding edge.
“I give a lot of credit to Woods, Paige and Jadyn,” Bono said. “It takes more than one person to guard (Payne) and they did a great job. We don’t have any true post players and are a very undersized team, but they are physical and not afraid to mix it up.”
Wednesday marked the start of a big stretch in the first half of league. On Friday, East Union travels to reigning co-champion Kimball (3-0, 14-3), which then hosts Manteca next Wednesday, Jan. 16.
“We’re trying to stay in this,” Agostini said. “If we can get a win on Friday night and get a split between these two games we still control our own destiny.
“We have to play a much more solid game than we did tonight, but sometimes your opponent makes you play that way, too. They make you do things you don’t want to do but we also did things on our own.”