Little needs to be said between Leah Manuleleua and Lejla Pepic on the pitch.
Manteca’s dynamite scoring tandem is making more than enough noise with its play.
They each scored two goals to power the Buffaloes’ 4-1 Valley Oak League victory over visiting Central Catholic on Wednesday. It was a match pitting two Sac-Joaquin Section playoff finalists from a year ago — Manteca was the runner-up to Christian Brothers in Division III, while the Raiders of Modesto fell to West Campus in the Division V championship.
Manuleleua, the Manteca area’s leading goal scorer, sat out the first 22 minutes of the contest for missing part of practice Tuesday. She entered the game shortly after Pepic put the Buffaloes (5-0-1 VOL, 14-1-1 overall) up 1-0 with a deflection off Jasmine Basuil’s free kick from long range.
“It was a minor setback that (Manuleleua) wasn’t in the game at the start but as a team we did a good job of possessing the ball without her,” Pepic said. “When she started the game in the second half that was when the game really changed.”
Manuleleua doubled the lead in the opening minute of the second half. She was set up nicely by Avigail Mayen’s diagonal through ball. The same combination made it 3-0 just three minutes later, with Mayen delivering a perfect pass from a free kick near midfield. Manuelelua trapped it with her chest and blasted an impressive half-volley shot past Central Catholic keeper Makenzie Perez (six saves).
Central Catholic (3-2-1, 5-2-2) answered in the 46th minute on Lauren Nicholson’s corner-kick cross to Chloe Peepgrass, who knocked it in with right-foot volley. Peepgrass has signed to play for CSU Bakersfield.
Although Manteca controlled the action for much of the game, it wasn’t until the 65th minute that it truly iced the win. The scoring sequence was sparked by freshman midfielder Madison Burch’s burst up the middle. She pushed it ahead to Pepic, who redirected it to Manuleleua, streaking up the left sideline, on the first touch. Manuelelua carried it into Central Catholic’s penalty box before teeing it up for Pepic at the top of the 18. The skilled sophomore punctuated the sequence with an arcing shot that sailed over Perez’s outstretched hands.
“That’s our thing. When we get the ball with our back (to the goal) we like to flick it and run off each other,” Pepic said. “We just communicate really well.”
It was overall just the kind of effort Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg wanted to see from his team coming off of Monday’s 2-2 stalemate with Oakdale. Wednesday’s win keeps the Buffaloes within range of league-leading East Union while knocking Central Catholic further from contention. The Raiders suffered their first two losses of the year in town after getting drubbed by East Union 8-0 on Monday.
“We were kind of disappointed with the outcome of the Oakdale game,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We rallied to come back to tie it but it was a game we felt we should have won. To come out and beat a good team like Central Catholic like this we’re pretty happy.”
Central Catholic 0
Carly Morrish scored twice, while Sarah Vegas had two assists and a goal in the Buffaloes’ shutout win. Alejandra Delgadillo netted the game’s first goal.