The girls Valley Oak League basketball playoff picture just got a little murkier.
With Manteca leading East Union by a game with two left in Valley Oak League play coming into their crosstown tilt at Winter Gym on Thursday, a Buffaloes win would have clinched the final automatic playoff berth.
That did not happen.
The Lancers led from the opening tip to the final buzzer, riding the hot hand of Julia Vezaldenos and pulling away with a 15-2 run to start the second quarter on the way to a 59-45 win and a tie for third place and the final automatic playoff slot.
“East Union came out with a lot of energy,” Manteca coach Ryan Bono said. “They played like their playoff lives were on the line and we didn’t. I warned them before the game that we needed to come out and match their intensity.
“They shot really well in the first half and we couldn’t get some buckets to fall. But you have to tip your hat because they played like they had something to play for.”
Vezaldenos caught fire in the first quarter, scoring 10 of her game-high 20 points in the opening period and finishing with six rebounds and two assists.
“We came out with a lot of energy and I was happy about that,” Vezaldenos said. “And we played good defense tonight and that helped us on offense as well.
“Destiny (Torio) is a really good point guard and she passes the ball around a lot and I got a few baskets off of that tonight.”
Torio directed the offense for the Lancers (9-4 VOL, 15-10) with seven assists to go with her nine points.
Another beneficiary of Torio’s unselfishness was Donja Payne who tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds along with three steals and three blocks.
“I felt great,” said Payne, who has been working through the effects of an ankle injury in late December. “I just pushed out there to make sure we were doing what we were supposed to do. I am still recovering, but I felt like myself out there.”
After East Union took a 5-0 lead the closest the Buffaloes (9-4, 17-9) would come is 9-7. The Lancers scored the next five points and eight of the next 10 and never looked back.
“We had the lead from the beginning,” Lancers coach Jim Agostini said. “We were never behind and I thought the girls came out and played really solid, especially in the first half. But more importantly I thought our defense was right on par tonight. When we were able to keep the ball in front of us, that was good. When they beat us off the dribble, that’s when we struggled.
“When we played them the first time (a 49-44 Manteca win on Saturday, Jan. 20), they outplayed us. They played a good game where they knocked down some 3-point shots. I wanted to make sure we extended out on them today. Our team has been humbled and had to weather the storm with a four-game losing streak, but now we have won five in a row and knotted this thing up for third place.”
Freshman Kyaira Jacobs led Manteca with 16 points, five rebounds and three steals. Jayda Jackson added 12 points and Selena Lopez tallied a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Manteca 48, East Union 27
Victoria Villavazo led a balanced Buffaloes attack with 14 points and Savannah Alvarez (five assists) chipped in 10 points.
Paige Peterson (nine points) and Raelene Finley each grabbed 12 rebounds for Manteca.
The Lancers’ Ashley Martin led all scorers with 15 points.
Manteca 38, East Union 22
Jaslyn Wood put up 20 points and made eight steals for the Buffaloes.
Jadyn Nieman added 13 rebounds, eight points and three blocks for Manteca.
Janiel Ismerio led the Lancers with seven points.