Michael Hatfield did it again.
For the second time in a week, Manteca High’s 6-foot-6 center canned a game-winning shot to keep the Buffaloes’ postseason chances alive. Wednesday night at Sierra, he nailed a fall-away jumper from the deep left wing at the buzzer to hand the Timberwolves’ their first Valley Oak League loss of the season, 47-45.
Hatfield sank a short-range shot from the baseline to seal Manteca’s thrilling 66-65 win over visiting Kimball on Feb. 5.
“That one felt even better,” Hatfield said, comparing the two game-winners. “It’s Sierra, they were 11-0 and it feels good to beat the champions.”
Hatfield was in danger of not getting a shot off at the end. Coming out of a timeout with 4.4 seconds left, he received the ball near the elbow and prepared to deliver a short pass to Austin Haro, the Buffaloes leading scorer for the night with 14 points. Haro was well covered, forcing Hatfield to make a quick decision as Sierra defender Joshua Patton (five points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) stumbled to the hardwood in front of him.
“I knew I only had 4 seconds to get a shot up so I got one up,” said Hatfield, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. “I was comfortable with it, but a long fadeaway isn’t the best one to take with the game on the line. Luckily it went down.”
And for the first time in two months, so did Sierra (11-1, 19-5). With its third consecutive VOL title already in hand, the Timberwolves were looking to add to their 13-game win streak and garner a top-four seed in the SJS Division III playoffs.
Manteca (8-4 VOL, 17-8 overall) has won five straight with two regular-season games remaining. The Buffaloes are locked in a tie for second place with Lathrop with a one-game lead over Weston Ranch in the race for the final two Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths. They can clinch a spot with a win Friday when East Union visits.
Sierra, which won the first meeting between the crosstown rivals 52-39, appeared to be on its way to another victory Wednesday night when a 9-0 run in the second quarter culminated in a 28-19 halftime lead. Reserve center Jonnythan Munkholm anchored Sierra by scoring all eight of his points in the period.
The Timberwolves led by as much as 12, 33-21, after Devin Nunez’s deep 3-pointer with 5:02 to go in the third. Haro answered with a 3 of his own to spark a 7-0 spurt for Manteca.
Sierra carried a 38-35 advantage into the fourth period but failed to make a field goal for a 7-minute, 30-second stretch. Nunez, who paced Sierra with 14 points, ended the drought with another trey that tied it at 43 with 1:36 left in the game.
“We had a couple of chances to put that game away,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “Give Manteca a lot of credit, they kept on fighting and Hatfield hit a tough shot. Manteca is a tough team. We’re going to see how we bounce back from this game and see the character of this team. We’re going on the road the last two games (Weston Ranch, Lathrop) and we’re going to be highly motivated.”
Hatfield’s heroic finish was set up by two clutch runners from rising underclassmen. Freshman Tydus Verhoeven contributed 11 points and three blocks for the Buffaloes. His gutsy drive from the right corner pushed them ahead 45-43 with 26 seconds remaining. Eleven seconds later, Sierra sophomore Daniel Wyatt floated in his shot from the middle of the key.
Manteca coach Dave Asuncion is hoping this to be the start of a late-season breakout for Verhoeven, a 6-foot-6 guard who came into the game averaging 3.4 points in league.
“In practice we’ve seen him go hard to the rim but in games he seems to defer a lot,” Asuncion said. “We told him that when teams are taking away Mikey and our other options we need him to keep attacking the rim. It’s good to see him show some maturity tonight.”
Manteca 51, Sierra 42
The Buffaloes erased a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit with a 23-5 rally for the win. Frankie Lopez led the way with 11 points.
Jess Spivey accounted for all nine of Sierra’s points in the opening period and finished with 14. Ogun Delaney added 10.
Sierra 33, Manteca 30
Jamille Grady fired 13 points for the Timberwolves (9-3, 14-4), who outscored visiting Manteca 21-12 in the second half. Victor Elijah chipped in nine points.