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Gardners free throws seal victory
Manteca standout Kiwi Gardner puts on full court pressure for Ceres’ Justin Canatsy during Manteca’s VOL win over the Bulldogs Wednesday. - photo by HIME ROMERO
After holding a 12 point lead early in the game, Manteca High seemed to be cruising right along as they picked apart the Ceres Bulldogs with efficiency.

But it was a trend that wouldn’t last long.

After being outscored by Ceres in both the second and third quarters, Manteca soon found itself down by a point with just over six minutes remaining – a rally spurred by Ceres’ effective outside shooting.

With the game on the line, the Buffaloes used the combination of sure shots and solid free throws to match their first quarter total of 20 points to wrap-up a 64-52 victory – their 10th Valley Oak League win this year.

“We snuck out of here tonight,” Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion said. “If they hadn’t have missed all of those layups we would have been in serious trouble. It’s a win, and we’ll take it, but it definitely wasn’t pretty.”

Dominant inside play by E.J. Godfrey helped set the Manteca tone for their first quarter surge – where he netted six points and pulled down just as many rebounds. Kiwi Gardner pumped in eight of his 25 points in the same time frame, and aggressively secured four defensive rebounds that appeared to give the Buffaloes ( 10-1, 17-5) more than enough momentum.

But with Ceres’ John Dhillon and Justin Cansty teaming up for five shots from beyond the arc before halftime, no Manteca lead seemed like it was safe enough.

By the time the clock expired in the third quarter, Ceres was only trailing 44-43, and would take the lead early in the fourth before their aggressive play would send Manteca star Kiwi Gardner to the free throw stripe four times to effectively ice the game.

Gardner netted seven of his eight free throw attempts down the stretch, and hit both a three point shot and a layup to help secure the victory.

“I think that E.J. (Godfrey) did a good job tonight scoring and pulling down boards and converting them,” Asuncion said. “In the fourth quarter and later in the game we started doing better in getting to the basket and putting ourselves in position to make the shots we needed.”

Gardner’s 25 led Manteca’s offensive scoring, while Godfrey finished with 13 and Ernie Pimentel racked up 11 in the relatively close contest.

Godfrey finished the game with eight rebounds and an assist, while Gardner pulled in an impressive seven defensive rebounds.

The win keeps Manteca in sole possession of the VOL’s top spot – with Weston Ranch’s loss to Sonora Wednesday night leaving them as the only single loss team left in the league.