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Manteca fighting for playoff berth against shorthanded EU
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• WHAT: East Union (10-1-2, 17-1-2) at Manteca (8-4-1, 15-6-1) in their Valley Oak League season finale.
• WHEN: Tonight, 6:30.
• AT STAKE: For Manteca, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff berth. East Union has already clinched a No. 2 seed.

Going into the regular-season finale between East Union and Manteca girls soccer teams there’s plenty of intrigue beyond feuding neighbors.

The Lancers effectively lost any chance of defending their Valley Oak League championship with a 1-1 draw at unbeaten Kimball last Tuesday.

That result, coupled with Kimball’s victories over Weston Ranch and Sonora, has created too big a chasm for East Union to cover with one victory.

Still, the playoff-bound Lancers (10-1-2 VOL, 17-1-2) can find reason to celebrate tonight. A win at Guss Schmiedt Stadium would keep its longtime rival out of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

The Buffaloes (8-4-2, 15-6-1) currently occupy the Valley Oak League’s third and final playoff seed, clinging to a one-point lead on Oakdale.

Kimball and East Union have already clinched playoff berths.

“Basically, we win and we’re in,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “I guess Oakdale can lose to Sonora, but we don’t want to rely on somebody else to help us out. We’re in a position to control our own destiny and that’s all you can ask for in a conference as deep as the Valley Oak League.”

The plot line is even thicker than that, though.

East Union will be without two of its top playmakers, sisters Isela and Isabela Rivera. Neither is listed on the team’s roster on MaxPreps, and athletic director J.J. Ramirez confirmed that they have left the team.

Isela Rivera is the reigning Valley Oak League MVP. East Union coach Jim Todd was not available for comment.

Nevertheless, Coenenberg believes East Union remains one of the section’s most dangerous teams because of its depth.

“East Union is still a very good team. Those two are very talented players; two of their main contributors,” he said. “East Union is still talented – not just talented but deep.

“Yes, I think it will have an impact on them and what they’re doing. But they’re still a very good team and they’ve proven that in the last few games.”

Manteca, meanwhile, has had a rough April. While it has dispatched inferior competition, the Buffaloes have struggled against the VOL’s upper echelon. Manteca is 0-3 against East Union, Kimball and Oakdale in April and has been outscored 11-2 in those games.

The Lancers topped Manteca 4-1 on April 2 to close the first half of league play.

In that game, Isela Rivera pumped in two goals and assisted on a third.

“Short memories,” Coenenberg said. “We need to focus on what we have done when we’ve played well this season. We’ve come out and beat good teams. We did beat Oakdale. We did beat Sierra and some good teams in the preseason.”

Should Manteca lose and Oakdale tie Sonora in its finale – leaving both teams tied with 25 points – the Mustangs would advance by virtue of a tiebreaker.

The two teams split their only two meetings and collectively went 0-4 against Kimball and East Union. The tiebreaker is determined by their results against the next team in the table: Sierra.

Manteca went 1-0-1 against the Timberwolves, while Oakdale went 2-0.

The Buffaloes have been to the postseason two of the last three seasons and reached the semifinal round in 2012.

With college-caliber talent in striker Sammie Morris (Humboldt State) and the Manuleleua sisters, Sialei (Cal State East Bay) and Leah, the Buffaloes began the season as a darkhorse title contender.

Now they’re scrambling just to join the postseason party.

“We’re pretty senior heavy. I’ve got eight seniors, and most of the seniors are big contributors,” Coenenberg said. “From what I’ve gotten, from what I’ve picked up, they’re not ready for this to be over.

“I have no doubt they’ll give it their best effort.”