Oscar Calix embraced a teary-eyed Kierstin Constantino at midcourt after the game, and later met with Dwayne Davis to shake hands and exchange pleasantries one last time before going their separate ways.
Calix’s first postseason game as Manteca coach was a personal one, and his seventh-seeded Buffaloes held off visiting Lathrop 45-40 Thursday in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III opener. They travel to No. 2 Lincoln (25-2) of Placer County for the quarterfinals next Monday.
“Winning my first playoff game is a good feeling, but winning my first game against Lathrop puts the cherry on top of it,” Calix said.” It was an exciting game, but I think we made it closer than it should have been. Overall, the girls played hard I think they did a good job, we just have to keep the train rolling.”
Camrenne Genilla compiled 18 points and 18 rebounds for the Buffaloes (17-8), while No. 10 Lathrop (21-8) had a woeful shooting night from the field and the free-throw line.
Calix is a Lathrop High alumnus, and he got his first job as girls basketball assistant under Davis. He has also coached Constantino, a senior and the Spartans’ top scorer for the season, in the AAU circuit. Constantino paced Lathrop with 15 points but mostly struggled with her shot. She only had three points going into the final period, when she made nine of 11 free-throw attempts and hit a big 3 during the Spartans’ late comeback.
Manteca’s Marcelina Chaparro played a big part in limiting Constantino despite foul trouble. She finished with eight points, three assists and five steals. Freshman wing Ariel De la O contributed four points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks.
“I think Marci is one of the best defenders in our league and in the area,” Calix said. “She just has that mentality; she doesn’t want anybody to beat her. She wants to guard all the best players.”
Manteca never trailed and led by as much as 15 in the second half. Genilla was a sparkplug throughout, jump starting the Buffs with eight points in the first quarter. They led 22-13 at halftime after holding the Spartans to just two points in the second period.
“This is round 1 of playoffs,” Genilla said. “My main thing is aggression, so I just thought I should go out and give it everything I have.”
Lathrop did well to make it a game in the final minutes but was ultimately done in by a ghastly 18-for-46 effort from the foul line. The Spartans made 2 of 10 in each of the first two quarters.
“We knew they like playing aggressively and going for the ball, so I said we have to get to the (free-throw) line,” Davis said. “We have to hit them. We capitalize on that, it’s a totally different game and we’re not trying to play catch-up all night.”
Manteca survived its own offensive lull in the second half, going scoreless for a 5-minutes, 37-second stretch. The Spartans mounted a 13-0 run in the meantime but also went 6-for-17 on free throws in that stretch. They did get to benefit from one of those missed free throws, as Isa Paniagua followed her shot and got the offensive rebound, then kicked it out to Constantino for a 3-pointer that closed Lathrop in 34-31 with 4:46 remaining.
Constantino later made one of two free throws to slim the margin to two, but Manteca was able to get out of its rut by getting a clutch 3-pointer each from Chaparro and De la O 30 seconds apart.
“That gave them some breathing room and we had to work back again,” Davis said. “That was a good answer by them.”
Lathrop still had hope in the final minute after Constantino was fouled on a 3-point attempt and sank the three free throws to make it 43-39 with 23.8 seconds to go. Makayla Kakala sealed it for Manteca with two free throws of her own.
Paniagua chipped in six points and 13 rebounds in her final game for Lathrop. Fellow senior Egypt Jenkins finished with six points and nine rebounds after leaving the game with an injury at the end of the third quarter. Promising freshman Michailla Springs added seven points, five boards and four steals. Senior center Sydney Hanks collected 10 rebounds and two blocks to go with four points.
“I liked the way we battled,” Davis said. “It hurts for my seniors, but they battled their butts off.”