Sialei Manuleleua pulled the ball behind her back, changing direction in an instant.
She cut to the left and then to right, spinning Ripon Christian’s defense around like a bad dance partner.
And when sophomore goalie Bryanna Heidu wasn’t quite expecting it, the crafty Manteca forward rifled a BB to the far post.
The ball squibbed on Heidu and spun out of her hands for the tone-setter in a 4-0 victory on Friday during the first day of the Buff Cup.
Manuleleua is headed to Cal State East Bay on a partial athletic scholarship in the fall, and on Friday afternoon, during the first day of tournament play, she put her whole arsenal on display.
She had to.
The senior totaled three goals in two victories as Manteca earned a bittersweet berth into the semifinals. The Buffaloes played most of the afternoon without two-time scoring leader Sammy Morris, who limped off the field against Ripon Christian.
“Sialei did a great job of leading this team,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said.
The Buffaloes (5-0) cruised into its tournament with three consecutive shutouts, but struggled at times to put away Orestimba and Ripon Christian.
Manuleleua netted both goals in a 2-1 victory over Orestimba and the eventual game-winner against Ripon Christian.
The Buffaloes (5-0) needed her punch in the offensive third.
Morris left the Ripon Christian game two minutes into the second half after re-aggravating a groin injury.
She did not return.
Morris missed most of the last season with a broken right ankle. On Friday, the senior hunkered down behind the bench, favoring her right leg.
Coenenberg hinted that she may not play again until league, a move that would give his captain six days of rest. Morris injured her groin on Monday.
“I might have to shut her down,” he said.
With Morris sidelined and Manuleleua closely guarded, Manteca turned to its supporting cast for insurance.
Seniors Esmeralda Cuenca and Adaze Nkwocha and freshman Leah Manuleleua tacked on second-half goals.
The Buffaloes will play University in today’s semifinal round. The two teams met in the last year’s Buff Cup opener, with Manteca pulling away for a 2-1 victory.
The other semifinal pits Atwater against Liberty Ranch.
“We came out in that first game and that was really the first time we’ve faced adversity all season,” Coenenberg said. “We didn’t play well at all.
“When we regrouped we talked about staying positive and playing for each other. When you do that, everything comes together.”
The Knights won’t “come together” for at least another month.
Already shorthanded because of the basketball team’s playoff run, Ripon Christian lost the services of captain and senior forward Ashley Bloemhof to a shoulder injury.
Bloemhof tore the AC joint in her right shoulder when she was pulled down in the box during a 2-1 victory over Orestimba.
Sam Carvalho converted the penalty kick. Vanessa Vallo also scored.
RC coach Kevin Tameling said the earliest he expects Bloemhof to return is mid-April.
Heidu was a star between the pipes for the Ripon Christian, regardless of the final score.
The sophomore was under duress from the opening whistle and finished with 16 saves.
That she kept the game scoreless for the first 25 minutes was a near miracle. She broke up a 1-on-1 attempt in the 6-yard box and punched another over the crossbar to keep the game interesting early.
“Coming into the season, keeper was the team’s biggest question mark,” Tameling said. “We didn’t know what we had in her. We didn’t know if she could make the leap (from junior varsity).
“She played tough back there; controlled the box. This was good competition for her.”
Ripon Christian (1-2) will play Vacaville.
Lathrop (2-3-1) will play Orestimba after finishing Day 1 winless. The Spartans drew even with Vacaville and fell to University 3-0. Brianna Fernandez scored Lathrop’s only goal.
Sierra 1, Central Catholic 1
Sydnee Canalas gave the Timberwolves a 1-0 lead with a goal in the first few minutes, but Sierra gave it right back in a physical affair between 2012 Division V playoff teams.
Freshman Emma Broderick had five saves for the Timberwolves (1-1-1).