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Manteca, Ayala step out of rivals shadows
BBSK--State Finals ADV file pic
Tydus Verhoeven and Kenny Wooten (2) hold up the CIF Northern California Division III championship plaque after Manteca trounced Bishop ODowd 70-45 at American Canyon High this past Saturday. - photo by Photo by SEAN KAHLER

Ayala boasts a 33-3 record and is playing for the CIF state Division III title Thursday at Sleep Train Arena.

The Bulldogs, however, aren’t even the best team in their city. That distinction goes to Chino Hills High, the top-ranked team in the country according to several national polls.

“I’ve had to tell people, ‘No, not that team from Chino Hills,’” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said.

He and the Buffaloes (28-6) can relate.

They’ve spent much of the season chasing Manteca Unified rival Weston Ranch, which beat Manteca three times to earn Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III titles. But it will be these Buffaloes, after their 70-45 drubbing of Oakland powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd in the NorCal finals, competing for a state crown.

“It has been insane,” Lewis said of the aftermath of his team’s groundbreaking victory on Saturday. “The amount of support we’ve been getting the past two days is unreal. We’re just still kind of soaking it in.”

Ayala defeated Palomares League foe Bonita of La Verne 63-54 in the SoCal Division III finals on Saturday. Bonita previously got the better of Ayala 81-80 in overtime in league play, but the Bulldogs have won nine straight since.

They’re led by Palomares League co-MVP John Edgar, a 6-foot-5 wing who transferred from Chino Hills and is averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. Austen Awosika is a 6-3 guard heading to Cal State Fullerton, and Miles President is an athletic 6-3 forward who can also step out and catch fire from behind the 3-point arc.

With Edgar as its tallest player, Ayala has been very successful without a true post presence. Although the Bulldogs have an advantage in speed, Manteca’s 6-9 tandem of Anand Hundal and Kenny Wooten is coming off a dominant effort against Bishop O’Dowd. The Buffaloes outrebounded O’Dowd, 43-26.

Lewis said Ayala closely resembles Weston Ranch’s 2014-15 team, which gave opponents fits with its quickness, passing and outside shooting.

“They love to get stuff going in transition, dribble, drive and kick,” Lewis said. “They have three studs with two guys spotting up in the corners, a lot like Weston Ranch from last year. We have to put together a good defensive effort much like we did in the second half on Saturday.”

Manteca led Bishop O’Dowd 27-26 at halftime but held the Dragons to 18.8 percent shooting in the second half.

Lewis is hoping that its previous experience along with the sting that comes with losing the SJS title game to Weston Ranch at Sleep Train Arena serves his Buffaloes well on Thursday.

“I felt like Weston Ranch had a big advantage playing there in the section title game last year,” Lewis said. “We got there early and tried to adapt but it’s a tough place to play. With them being there before and feeling defeat was big for them.

“I tell our guys that we were there just two weeks ago, and we’re hoping that it’s a really good thing for us.”

With the early 4 o’clock tipoff, the school district has allowed Manteca to go to a rally schedule for Thursday, which lets students out at 1:50. The team’s charter bus leaves campus around 12:30 and will drive through downtown in a formal sendoff. 

“I want the guys to enjoy it, but I’m also hoping that they’re able to focus on the task at hand,” Lewis said.