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Local preps promise one heck of a ride
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I started covering high school sports in this area around the turn of the century. In those days, Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section championships were reserved mostly for other schools – unless you were on the Sierra track team. I know there were other local champions back then too, but since I coached there and my kids went there, the Blue School stands out in my mind.
It seemed as if Tracy, West, Los Banos, Oakdale and Sonora were always at the top of the VOL heap, and with the opening of Weston Ranch, the talent from Manteca Unified was diluted even more. But time moves on, and Tracy, West and Los Banos all got too big for the VOL while Sonora got too small so all left for other pastures. But with Oakdale remaining and Central Catholic coming into the league, the quest for a VOL football championship for the Family City will be a tough one.
The hit from the Weston Ranch opening was finally absorbed and what has come out of the other side has been somewhat of a powerhouse. This year alone the city has two state champions – Manteca basketball and Sierra football – along with three Section champions – Weston Ranch boys basketball, Sierra football and for the second year in a row Weston Ranch boys soccer. The Cougars also won the VOL titles in boys basketball and soccer.
Let us go back to last year. East Union won section and league titles in softball and girls soccer, as did Sierra in boys basketball and Weston Ranch in soccer. The Timberwolves also did something nobody can remember happening before last year – they won the league title in the Big Three sports – football, basketball and baseball. And for the third time in five years, Sierra won a blue banner in softball.
In 2014, East Union won the section title in girls soccer. Manteca ended Oakdale’s grip on the baseball section banner – the Mustangs had claimed the previous four SJS championships and six of the last seven – with a section title in baseball and the Buffaloes won the section title in football.
In my opinion, it was the 2014 Manteca baseball team that got this thrill ride going. The finals that year were shaping up to be an all-Valley Oak League affair with Sierra and Manteca a game away from facing each other. But the Timberwolves came up short to Vista del Lago of Folsom, leaving the Eagles to face the Buffaloes in a winner-take-all finale.
Things looked bleak for Manteca, trailing 6-0 going into the bottom of the fifth. Five fifth-inning runs followed by another in the sixth set up No.9 batter Alex Jorgensen’s two-out walk-off single that plated Brandon Landwehr to complete the improbable comeback.
One of my downfalls as a sportswriter is a lack of recall – there are times I cannot remember bupkis. Prior to these last few years of excitement, when recalling exciting finishes I could only remember one – the 27-24 overtime win for Weston Ranch at Sonora in 2005.
Dunlavy Field is without question one of the more hostile environments for visiting teams in the area. Nothing adds more to that hostility than the Wildcats band – it even has its own set of bleachers in the end zone. But on that night, after Sonora kicked a field goal to take the lead in overtime, Steve Jackson’s Cougars silenced the band when Si Galano waited until the last possible second to unload a post pass to Sam Wilson for the thrilling victory.
Dunlavy Field was not kind to Manteca that year. With the Buffaloes driving late in the game, quarterback Ruben Cedano drilled a fourth-down pass to Seth Davis to keep the drive alive. However, Cedano was flagged for crossing the line of scrimmage prior to throwing, although he was a full yard behind the line when he released the ball. This saved the win for the Wildcats. 
After that game, Sonora coach Robert Cendro told me, “We heard the Manteca defense was soft, and it was.” When I asked if he had anything else to say, he repeated himself. I told myself at the time that his words would be a noose around his team’s neck come Week 13 for the Section championship, and they were – The Buffaloes boat raced the Wildcats back up the hill with a 34-7 win at University of the Pacific. More than once on the Manteca sideline that night the soft-defense quote was referred to, and sometimes not in very flattering terms.
Speaking of not very flattering, I got another quote that year from an opposition coach that was laced with F-bombs. I ran the quote and censored “expletive” for the F-bombs. It was a good year for quotes.
If 2005 was the year of quotes, this year has been the year of exciting finishes. Ripon High was trailing Union Mine of El Dorado by 12 points with 1:59 remaining in an opening-round basketball playoff game. Somehow the Indians somehow got back to within a point when Cole Stevens unleashed a desperation shot from his back court at the buzzer that slammed off the glass and through the net for the win that seemed impossible.
No recounting of heart-stopping wins would be complete without Sierra’s come-from-behind win for the Div. IV-A State Championship at Chowchilla. They make movies about the kind of finish Mark Vicente and Mark Paule Jr. provided that night with their 88-yard, 11-play drive for the come-from-behind victory.  
 Vicente hit Paule with a fourth-and-10 pass good for 26 yards from his own 18-yard line to keep that last drive alive, and Vicente added a 21-yard scamper before hitting Paule Jr. with a 9-yard touchdown pass for the late lead.
A friendly home-town clock keeper made the final 58 seconds an eternity, and while adding unnecessary anxiety the outcome remain unchanged, giving Sierra the first competitive state championship in town history. And then a scant 90-plus days later the Manteca boys basketball team added another state title for the Family City.
Spring has sprung and voted the Division III team of the year last year by Cal-Hi Sports, the East Union softball team is looking to match last season’s glory. The Lancers claimed the section championship last year when they stunned Pioneer of Woodland in the last two games of the playoffs, spanking the Patriots by a combined score of 29-4. 
Last year was the third Cal-Hi-crowned state championship bestowed on a Manteca team in as many years. The Manteca baseball team mentioned above earned it in 2014 as did Sierra softball in 2013. Who knows what the local teams have in store for an encore? One thing is for sure – it promises to be a heck of a ride.