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Manteca earns rematch with EU after comeback
SOC--Ponderosa-Manteca pic 1
Freshman Kaitlynn Funsch celebrates her game-tying goal with Manteca teammates Ashlee Miller (24), Leah Manuleleua and Jocelyn Reyes (9) in the second half of the Buffaloes 3-1 victory over visiting Ponderosa on Wednesday. - photo by Photo by WAYNE THALLANDER

Natalia Duran got the last laugh Wednesday.

After being robbed of a go-ahead goal for Manteca when she was pushed in the back right in front of the Ponderosa net, Duran covered the carom of a potential game-tying Bruins corner kick in second-half stoppage time and took it the length of the field to tap it into an empty net for the game’s last goal.

This gave the Buffaloes a 3-1 win in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs at Guss Schmiedt Field and sets up a showdown with crosstown rival East Union for the blue banner Saturday at 2 p.m. at Lincoln High in Stockton.

“I was just trying to pressure the ball,” Duran said of the final Ponderosa corner-kick attempt. “And then when she shanked it I just ran like Forrest Gump and walked it in for the team victory.”

With 10 minutes left in the game and the score tied at 1-1, Duran was in position to put Manteca (22-4-1) ahead with a beautiful cross from Alexa Mayen when she was pushed to the ground. Fortunately, teammate Madison Burch was backing the play up and tapped the ball into the net for a 2-1 Manteca lead.

“I got pushed from behind – that’s why I missed,” Duran said. “And right when she (Madison Burch) knocked it in I just wanted to go jump right in her arms.”

Burch was just happy to be where she needed to be.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Burch said. “I knew I had to be ready in case it got through.”

The Bruins (10-7-5) took a 1-0 lead into the second half when Kaitlyn Funsch ran down a long cross from Lejla Pepic and headed it in to tie the game at 1-1 in the game’s 56th minute.

“It was off Lejla’s (Pepic’s) kick,” Funsch said. “I had to step back for the ball and that was the first header goal I have ever scored. I was so excited I literally started crying. I just couldn’t believe it.

“Our coach told us that we were only down 1-0 and that he knew we could come back. I was so happy we brought it back. I did not expect the third goal – that was crazy.”

Ponderosa got an early goal and kept the Buffaloes back on their heels most of the first half.

“This feels really good,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We came out really flat and we were not playing our brand of soccer and you have to give all the credit to Ponderosa because they came out ready to play.

“We were able to make some adjustments in the second half with Leah (Manuleleua) checking back to the ball and that started creating more opportunities and we were able to build our attack. We are a much better team when that happens and we look to hit the ball outside and down the sides and get crosses off. That worked for us.”

Buffaloes goalie Alyssa Burch had 11 saves.

 “I can’t say enough about the development of Alyssa Burch,” Coenenberg said. “She went from playing a little goalie and being a field player to being an elite goalie.”

Four of those saves came in the final 10 minutes, including during the scrum that led to Duran’s breakaway goal.

“The games always get intense when the other team is down by one,” Alyssa Burch said. “Both teams are fighting and they were definitely pushing against us and pressuring us a lot but the defense held strong and it did not give up. Playing defense was crucial for us right there at the end.”

 This will be the second trip in as many years to a section final for the Buffaloes who lost 1-0 to Christian Brothers in the 2014 Division III finals. Manteca is familiar with their rival East Union, dropping 2-0 and 1-0 losses to the Lancers this year. East Union is no stranger to the championship spotlight, winning the 2014 Division IV championship.

The crosstown showdown on Saturday will be the second all-Manteca Unified section final this year as Sierra and Weston Ranch faced each other in the SJS Division III boys basketball championship in February.