Manteca couldn’t solve Sierra’s suffocating defense for a second time.
No one, other than maybe talented Weston Ranch, has in the Valley Oak League.
Sierra left enemy territory Wednesday with a resounding 55-34 win — its 16th in a row and 26th straight in the VOL.
It was a similar result to the Timberwolves’ 63-36 triumph over their playoff-hopeful rival. In the first meeting, Sierra (12-0, 22-3 overall) opened with a 17-2 first-quarter run and cruised from there. On Wednesday, it was a 19-2 second quarter that did the Buffaloes (6-6, 13-11) in. Austin Haro snapped them out of their 8-minute, 55-second drought with a 3-pointer midway through the third.
Sierra has given up just 42 points per league contest, and Wednesday marked the sixth time it held a VOL opponent to 40 or less.
“They’re frantic and real active,” Manteca guard Miguel Lopez said of Sierra’s defense. “We played too calmly and were just off the mark.”
Lopez is one of Manteca’s top three scorers averaging 10 or more points per game, but no Buffalo broke the double-digit barrier Wednesday.
Haro was the closest with nine points, all off 3s. Brandon Dabney and Michal Hatfield each chipped in seven. In the first Manteca-Sierra showdown, the 6-foot-6 Hatfield poured in 16 points. The Timberwolves didn’t give away too many easy baskets, challenging and changing shots in the post and the perimeter.
While Guillermo Nunez dropped in 22 points and four steals, it was the interior play of Justin Patton (14 points, 3 blocks) and D’Ari Allen (7 points) that set the tone for Sierra on both ends. Point guard Eric Melgar (2 points) had a rare off night from the field but contributed six rebounds and five steals.
“Our focus was to get rebounds and dominate the post,” Patton said. “We knew the guards were going to get it to us, so we just had to be ready for it and finish.”
Sierra coach Scott Thomason wasn’t discouraged by his team’s slow start. Dabney hit all net with a buzzer-beating jumper from the top of the key at the end of the first, lifting Manteca to a 10-9 lead. It was all Sierra from there, as it opened the second with seven unanswered points with Patton accounting for five of them.
“All of (Manteca’s) points in the first quarter were tough shots,” Thomason said. “We were playing with good energy and good purpose, so we just told them to keep after them and keep grinding because they’re not going to keep making those shots.”
They didn’t. Not for a while.
Manteca’s big quarter was the fourth when it outscored Sierra 16-10, but the game was out of reach and the regulars were on the bench. The Timberwolves’ largest lead was 30, 53-23, after Emmanuel Elijah’s 3-pointer with 4:52 remaining.
“This is about the time when every game is important, so everybody’s gotta pick it up,” Patton said. “I thought today we did pretty well overall.”
Sierra is hosting what is essentially the VOL championship game Friday when second-place Weston Ranch (11-1, 17-8) visits. A victory secures a second consecutive outright title with one game to go for the Timberwolves.
Sierra 50, Manteca 41
The Timberwolves (9-3, 18-3) led 18-12 after the first quarter and never looked back.
Devin Nunez spearheaded a balanced scoring effort, finishing with a game-high 16 points. Mateo Hernandez and Hunter Johnson each added 10, and Jakob Gallagher had nine.
Lechi Nkwocha and Keyshawn Shackleford recorded 12 and 11 points for Manteca, respectively.
Manteca 53, Sierra 35
Manteca (7-5, 13-9) pulled out an upset in a big way, handing the Timberwolves (11-1, 19-1) their first defeat of the season.
Sierra nursed a 14-11 halftime lead before Frankie Lopez and Manteca took control of the latter two quarters. Lopez erupted for 22 of his 27 points in the second half and converted all six of his free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal it. The Buffaloes broke it open with a 26-9 fourth-quarter run. Tyler Graves contributed 16 points to their cause.
Jess Spivey paced Sierra with 10 points, and Tanner Peterson had nine.