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SOFTBALL: Manteca knocks off Pioneer to reach first semifinal
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 On the heels of another competitive loss to Oakdale, Manteca coach Josh Farris told his players to gear up for the rematch.

That was three weeks ago, and the two Valley Oak League rivals will indeed meet again.

On Thursday, the Buffaloes stunned third-seeded Pioneer 5-2 in Woodland to advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals.

It’s the first time in program history that Manteca (17-7), seeded sixth, has made the third round of the postseason. No. 2 Oakdale will await the Buffs next Tuesday.

“Both of our previous games were close,” Farris said. “The girls want that challenge. When we lost to them a couple weeks ago, I said to be ready for another rematch and here we are.

“Everyone knows the VOL is one of the toughest leagues for softball — all four of our qualifiers are in the semis. To have an all-Division III semifinal is pretty special, and to be part of it, we’re excited for the opportunity.”

Central Catholic and Kimball are in the Division IV semifinals.

Freshman Maleiah Garza and senior pitcher Nayellys Torres led the way Thursday for Manteca. Garza went 3 for 4 and drove in the Buffaloes’ first three runs. They were ahead 3-0 after the top of the fourth, and the Dominican University-bound Torres staved off one of the most power-packed lineups of the SJS.

She gave up two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out eight.

Pioneer (21-6) scored in the fourth when sophomore slugger Marisa Bryson bashed her 13th home run of the season. Torres had the final say, as she struck her out for the second time on the final at-bat of the game.

“She pitched us out of some tough moments that were pretty special,” Farris said. “(Pioneer is) a team that has hit almost 30 home runs. They have some girls with incredible power, so not having them on base and minimizing damage as Nelly always does was huge.”

“(Bryson) hit a homer off her, but it was awesome to end the game with our best against their best.”

Torres had more than enough run support. Offense had been a struggle for the Buffs of late, as they’ve been held to two or less runs in their last four outings.

Manteca tacked on insurance runs in the sixth and seventh innings but had chances to score more throughout the contest.

“We bunted a lot, and the girls bought into that,” Farris said. “We haven’t had too many moments lately where we’ve gotten clutch hitting. Today, we had base runners in every inning and were constantly putting pressure on them.”

Manteca got hits in eight of the nine spots in its lineup. Ayva Wilkins and Jayana Dias (double, run) both went 2 for 3, and Lauren Moncada scored three runs.

Jia Beebe went the distance in the pitcher’s circle for the Patriots, finishing with three strikeouts and three walks.

“It’s always awesome to do something for the first time,” Farris said of his team’s imminent semifinal debut. “When I got to my phone (after the game), I had 47 text messages from old players and other coaches congratulating me.

“I’ve been impressed with the energy our school is putting into the softball program. The school is proud of our program and the things we’re doing.”