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Lady Buffs kick off double-header with rivalry rout
Lejla Pepic (21) and Leah Manuleleua (33) look to get out on the fastbreak in front of Sierras Melanie Fox (3) after Manteca forced a turnover. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The new double-header format for Friday night varsity basketball games in the Valley Oak League can draw larger crowds for girls contests, which now precede the boys.
That was the case at Friday at Manteca High’s Winter Gym, where a near-capacity crowd created a raucous atmosphere for the Buffaloes’ anticipated dual tilt with visiting Sierra. If Manteca’s girls squad was a bit on edge before the game, the spirited environment wasn’t the reason for it.
“We were actually really nervous about this game because didn’t know much about Sierra,” senior forward Elizabeth Tolbert said.
Nervous? The Buffaloes did a terrible job of showing it.
With Tolbert leading the charge defensively, Manteca imposed its will from the start and rode the early energy to an impressive 54-25 victory over the Timberwolves, one of the area’s hottest teams who just had a six-game winning streak halted.
“That first half was unbelievable,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said.
Manteca forced four turnovers in the first minute, 33 seconds and scored the first 11 points of the game. Sierra (1-1 VOL, 9-5 overall) didn’t even get its first shot off until four-year starting point guard Kayla Wilson was off the mark on a runner with 4:23 left. Allison Edwards’ two free throws represented the Timberwolves’ lone points in the opening quarter, as the Buffaloes (2-0, 8-7) raced to a 17-2 lead. The cushion ballooned to 33-10 by halftime.
Manteca’s Loretta Kakala finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in limited time, as she continues to get into game shape after missing almost the entire pre-league schedule with a back injury. Rubel Dehal added 13 points and four assists, while Edwards tallied nine points off the bench to pace Sierra.
“I think we were probably a little shell shocked in the beginning,” Sierra coach Martha Spivey said. “Obviously the girls have never played in an environment like this — ever. There was a lot of hype going into this game, but all of that aside we didn’t do what we wanted to do and we did not execute our game plan.”
Manteca completely dominated in nearly all facets of the game, none more noticeable than its lopsided 48-16 advantage in rebounds. Twenty of those boards came on the offensive end. The Buffaloes also dished out 18 assists against just six for Sierra.
“They killed on us on offensive rebounds,” Spivey said. “Defensively, holding them to one shot it’s a different outcome versus two, three and four opportunities. That was the big thing. We knew we needed to box out and rebound and we just did not do that in the first half. We came out in the second half and played better, but when you go down 20 or so points in the first half it’s hard to dig out of that.”
Sierra’s improved effort, especially on defense, in the second half wasn’t enough to dent Manteca’s lead. The Timberwolves forced nine turnovers — Megan Westfall and Wilson each had five steals for the game — in the third quarter but were still outscored, 11-9.
“We knew we had to go back out there and work three times harder than we just did in the first half and they did cause some problems for us,” MaryAnn Tolbert said. “They were scrappy, they got some turnovers, they took it to the hoop better and they were pushing it up.
“You can’t count them out. Just because it was a big win today doesn’t mean that we’re going to go over there and not be worried about it.”
Elizabeth Tolbert exemplified Manteca’s all-around supremacy, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, five assists and seven steals. Leah Manuleleua, the Buffaloes’ other starting senior, pulled down eight of her 13 boards off the offensive glass and added eight points and four assists. Lejla Pepic chipped in with eight points of their own to go with seven rebounds and three steals.
“That’s really what we’re going to do all season is focus on keeping (opposing teams’) shots to a minimum, getting the rebounds, forcing turnovers and then our offense will come from that,” coach Tolbert said.