STOCKTON — Weston Ranch was able to limit Manteca High center Michael Hatfield this time around, but the Cougars had no answer for the Buffaloes’ two best guards.
With Hatfield (eight points, seven rebounds) in foul trouble for most of the night, Austin Haro and Miguel Lopez picked up the slack in an important 67-57 Valley Oak League win that sealed a season sweep of the Cougars.
Manteca (7-4 VOL, 16-8 overall) is now rolling and at just the right time. Up next is a rivalry game at first-place Sierra, and with three regular-season contests left the Buffaloes hold a one-game lead over Weston Ranch for the third and final Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
“We just gotta win,” Haro said. “We’ve known that since (losing three in a row) a few weeks ago. We came out this season to a slow start a little bit and now we have to win out.”
Haro can be lights out as a spot-up shooter, but Friday night he aggressively went at the Weston Ranch defense while still doing his usual damage from the perimeter. He led all players with 26 points to go with nine rebounds. The 6-foot-2 senior drained four 3-pointers and helped Manteca take a 16-point lead, 32-16, into halftime by firing 10 of his points in the second quarter.
“Mikey got into foul trouble early in the game, so I knew that to help my team not only did I have to shoot the ball well but attack the rim well and get to the (free-throw) line,” Haro said.
Lopez also came through as Weston Ranch (6-5, 10-13) threatened late. Jazz Swanson kept the Cougars within range all night with his outside shooting, burying seven 3-pointers for all of his 21 points.
The Buffaloes couldn’t expand on their halftime lead, and the Ranch cut the deficit to six with Jaelen Ragsdale’s three-point play that made it 45-39 with 6:37 left in the fourth.
Lopez answered with his own tradition three-point play just 15 seconds later. He ended up converting 9 of 11 free throws and scored 13 of his 20 points in the final period.
Manteca assistant coach Brett Lewis said that Lopez’s recent move to the point guard position has helped reinvigorate the offense. Manteca has scored at least 60 points in three of its last four games after previously doing so once all season.
“We moved him to point after our three-game skid and he’s been playing huge ever since,” Lewis said. “He’s still scoring, but he’s taking care of the ball and really helping us get into our offense.
“We’ve got a senior-laden team and it showed against the younger guys, but they played a great game. They were scratching and clawing right back in the whole time.”
Those younger guys were torched by Hatfield in their Jan. 9 meeting, which ended in a 57-42 win for Manteca. The 6-6 Hatfield went off for 23 points and 15 rebounds.
The mid-season addition of 6-3 senior Derek Gordon has given Weston Ranch the size and energy it had lacked from the low block earlier in the year. He pulled down 12 rebounds and made Hatfield work for his shots.
Sophomores Josh Dilg and Ragsdale each added 10 points for Weston Ranch. Ragsdale is the team’s leading scorer, but Manteca was able to handcuff him twice this year. He was held to two points in the first half Friday night, and in their first showdown Ragsdale was scoreless in the second half and finished with five points.
Part of the reason for Ragsdale’s struggles against the Buffaloes is the length of 6-6 sophomore Tydus Verhoeven, who drew the tough defensive assignment Friday.
“We’ve been putting Tydus on guards all year,” Lewis said. “He has those long arms and we tell him to put them to use on defense. He did a great job tonight.”
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Kevonte Boone and Ramon Gallardo poured in 15 and 14 points, respectively for Manteca (7-4, 18-6).