LATHROP – Although Manteca led Lathrop wire to wire Tuesday night in a 52-42 win to open the Valley Oak League girls season, the host Spartans trimmed a double-digit lead to just four points in the second period and kept the game within 10 points the rest of the way.
“They were hungry,” Buffaloes coach Mary Ann Tolbert said. “And they are a hard-working team. They never stopped.
“At times we moved the ball well and we looked really, really good and at times we forgot what we were supposed to be doing. We got stagnant and the ball doesn’t move and when that happens we are not as successful.”
One of the reasons that Manteca (1-0 VOL, 8-7 overall) was able to repeatedly repel Lathrop (0-1, 6-5) was a suffocating defense, making 18 steals and forcing 24 turnovers.
“We preach to the girls that our defense feeds our offense,” Tolbert said. “And when we are intense on defense and things are working well and we are clicking and putting our whole heart into it every minute, then we are rewarded on the other end.
“And even if we get a stop and don’t score, we come back and get another stop. That is what our focus is – the better our defense is, the more successful we will be.”
The Spartans were just 12 of 20 from the free-throw line.
“We had the perfect game plan,” Lathrop coach Dwayne Davis said. “But we have to hit our free throws. We kind of got worn down a little bit, but I loved what we did. We battled. We were right there.
“We are not on the cusp any more – we are there. We know we can compete with anybody. We are happy with the effort. We are never happy with a loss, but I am happy with what we are doing.”
Lejla Pepic (five rebounds) and Elizabeth Tolbert (four rebounds, three assists) led the aggressive Buffaloes defense with six steals apiece.
Manteca’s Leah Manuleleua led all scorers with 15 points and had a double-double with 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“We work a lot on our defense in practice,” Manuleleua said. “Every day we spend a big chunk of our practice on defense. That is our main focus. Sometimes when our offense doesn’t click we fall back on our defense – that is why we practice it so much.
Manteca’s Loretta Kakala also had a double-double, scoring 14 points with 11 rebounds and three blocks and she is glad to be back on the court after a long hiatus to rehab a back injury.
“I have been out for three months and I am a little rusty,” Kakala said. “But the team is helping me out. They are pushing me in practice.
“It feels good to be back. I am slowly working my way back to the conditioning level that I am supposed to be at but it is great to be out with team.”
Rubel Dehal was the third Buffaloes player in double figures with 14 points.
Danya Phillips had 11 points, six rebounds and three steals for the Spartans and Semajynique Steen scored nine points and made nine rebounds.
Lathrop 42, Manteca 40
The Spartans’ Mary Cotton led all scorers with 16 points and Heavensent Hudson added 12.
Frankie Lopez paced the Buffaloes with 12 points. Jasmine Englis chipped in 11 and Jules Eavenson led Manteca with nine rebounds.
Manteca 30, Lathrop 20
The Buffaloes held the Spartans scoreless in the second quarter and allowed just two points in the third.
Manteca’s Kaitlyn Morenzone led all scorers with 12 points. Krishara Gary and Divine Loto scored five points apiece for Lathrop.