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Sonoras title hopes alive after getting even with WR
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SONORA — Weston Ranch’s attempt at garnering its second straight Valley Oak League championship is beginning to fade after its 55-53 loss to Sonora Wednesday.

Marcus Woods’ prayer from 3-point range at the buzzer was off the mark to seal it for the host Wildcats (8-3, 15-7 overall), who themselves remain in the title hunt after avenging their previous loss to Weston Ranch (8-3, 13-10).

With front-running Manteca and second-place Sierra representing two of the Cougars’ final three regular-season contests, Weston Ranch is now fighting for its playoff lives. Sonora is responsible for Manteca’s only league loss and will square off with the Buffaloes on the road next Wednesday, Feb. 18.

“I think that we outplayed them basketball-wise, but they outhustled us,” Weston Ranch coach Ryan Bono said. “In crucial times when there was a loose ball or a rebound, we didn’t get it. Not to take anything away from Sonora, but I think we let the game slip through our fingers tonight.”

A back-and-forth affair throughout, it came down to free-throw shooting down the stretch with both teams struggling to make theirs during the final minute.

In what may have been the game’s biggest sequence, Ronnie Collins made the first of two free throws with about 30 seconds remaining. Weston Ranch was able to pull down the offensive board, but the ensuing put-back bounced harmlessly off the hoop.

“We did a good job of holding them to nine points in the fourth quarter, but they were able to get four or five shots (in single possessions) at a time,” Bono said.

Another key stretch was the second quarter. Weston Ranch led 14-10 after a quarter of play, but the Wildcats heated up from inside and out to go into halftime ahead 32-29.

Sonora standout forward Brenden Evans scored seven of his game-high 17 points in the second quarter, while Josh Martin buried a pair of 3-pointers. Sonora finished with six 3’s.

“They hit big shots in that second quarter,” Bono said. “We packed it in and tried to take away their big guys and forced them to take jumpers, but they were making them.”

Nate Moises led Weston Ranch with 12 points, and Collins added 11.

Weston Ranch hosts Manteca Friday at 7:15 p.m.

Manteca 58, Ceres 34
In Ceres, the Buffaloes (10-1, 21-3) broke it open by holding the host Bulldogs to just two second-quarter points, while leading-scorer Nick Scheible scored 12 of Manteca’s 25 in the third. Scheible ended up with 26 points.

Kiwi Gardner, who is battling an illness, contributed eight points in limited time, as did Dominque Barnes before turning his ankle in the second half.

Marcus Hilgen recorded 14 points to pace Ceres (2-9, 7-16).

—Jonamar Jacinto