Manteca exited the locker rooms at Winter Gym Friday night playing ball like there was a playoff spot on the line – which there was.
After only leading by four at the break, Manteca (9-4 Valley Oak League, 18-8 overall) clamped down defensively and only surrendered 20 second-half points during a 61-38 victory over visiting East Union.
“We’re playing and treating each game as a playoff game,” Manteca head coach Dave Asuncion said. “We’ll see how it goes when everything is done.”
When everything was done Friday, Manteca registered its sixth win in a row after snapping a three-game losing skid. The Buffaloes haven’t lost since Jan. 25, an 18-point road loss against Lathrop.
In the second half against East Union (1-12, 9-15), the Buffaloes stretched a four-point halftime lead out to 12 after three quarters thanks to a 21-13 run.
Manteca opened up the fourth with a 9-0 run capped by a Mikey Hatfield put-back that made it 52-31 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds left in regulation.
Hatfield finished with a game-high 15 points, 12 rebounds and dished out two assists.
Austin Haro (11 points, seven rebounds) hit his third 3-ball during a 9-0 run that stretched the Buffaloes’ lead out to 22.
“(Haro) has been playing better for us, but I think it’s a full team effort,” Asuncion said. “Not just Haro, not just Hatfield. I think everyone is figuring out that if we play together, we play better.”
Manteca’s win clinched it the second spot in the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason along with VOL champion Sierra. The final spot will be decided between Lathrop and Weston Ranch as both conclude the regular season Tuesday.
“Wins are tough in our league,” Asuncion added. “So every victory is something to be happy about. The first half we gave (East Union) a lot of second-chance opportunities. I thought we did a better of boxing out and forcing tough shots, and I thought we executed better in the second half.”
Manteca guard Miguel Lopez netted 11 and dished out three assists. He knocked down three straight free throws to start the second half and to make it 25-18.
That was followed by Brandon Dabney assisting Haro for a bucket that put East Union down by nine.
The Lancers’ Andrew Ruiz netted 13 and drilled a trey that cut his squad’s deficit to five. Manteca closed the third on a 12-5 run.
Clay Cuneo played solid for the EU. Cuneo finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and one block. He scored four of the Lancers’ first seven points and 10 of their first 16.
East Union trailed by one at the end of the first quarter, which was closed by Lucas Garcia (six points) knocking down a trey assisted by Cody Keener (five points).
Cuneo even gave the Lancers their only lead of the ball game at 11-10 with a pair of free throws with 4:49 left in the first half.
“Being down four at the half, considering our offensive struggles was a pretty good spot to be in,” East Union head coach Ryan Tarr said. “I just told the guys that we have to keep fighting offensively, but we just struggled.
“We got good looks and open shots but just couldn’t knock them down.”
After Manteca went down one, it responded with a 7-0 run capped by a Hatfield triple on an assist by Lopez. The Buffaloes, who will wrap up VOL at home against Oakdale, never trailed after that.
The Lancers will conclude their season at home against Sonora Tuesday night.
East Union 33
The Buffaloes (9-4, 20-6) received 11 points from Frankie Lopez and 10 from Ramon Gallardo. Adrian Contreras finished with eight points and 12 rebounds as the Lancers fell to 10-3 in league.
East Union 59,
Ryan Brock (14) led the Buffaloes (8-5, 11-12) in scoring, and Ascari Johnson chimed in with six. East Union led 35-14 at the half and Manteca outscored the Lancers by seven over the last two quarters.