STOCKTON — Close-game situations are nothing new to Manteca, and that experience once again served the Lady Buffaloes well in Tuesday’s pivotal Valley Oak League matchup at Weston Ranch.
For Weston Ranch, it was close-game heartache once again.
Fourth-year varsity guard Emoni Wilson beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer, but her Cougars didn’t beat Manteca in a 56-54 defeat.
With three games remaining, all against the VOL’s bottom three squads, Manteca (11-0, 17-6) is likely to earn a third straight championship with a two-game lead on Weston Ranch (9-2, 14-8).
It’s a troubling trend for the Cougars, who have had the talent to compete over the years but are again stopped short of their first crown in their eighth varsity season.
“She’s been one game short all four years it seems like,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Bauer said of Wilson, who finished with 13 points and six steals. “She left everything out there on the floor and did everything possible.
“It really stinks for them. This is the fifth or sixth year that we’re the bridesmaids.”
Courtney Range paced Manteca with 23 points and 18 rebounds, but it was her third and final assist that sealed the deal. With 20 seconds to go and the Buffaloes clutching to a 53-51 lead, she chucked a pass from the baseline and over Weston Ranch’s full-court press, hitting Jasmine Odell (12 points, 9 rebounds) near the free-throw area of the opposite end of the court. Odell chased down the ball and made the uncontested layup.
“It was by design, and (Odell) was the third option to look at,” said first-year coach Cody Norman, who looks to continue the Buffaloes’ current reign started by Andrea Hiatt. “It ended up working out. Courtney made a good pass, Jasmine sold the fake and made the layup.”
Norman had faith in his players to execute the inbounds play, and rightfully so. Manteca is 11-1 overall since the Cal-bound Range joined the team after sitting out 30 days due to the California Interscholastic Federation’s transfer rule, and she and the Buffaloes have been clutch in crunch time.
They were able to pull out Tuesday’s win despite shooting 14-for-30 on free throws.
“We’ve had seven or eight games (decided by) four points or less,” Norman said. “We’re getting used to these pressure situations and it’s hard to practice for that. We try to have that intensity in practice, but it’s not the same as it is playing a Weston Ranch or Kimball.
“My girls just once again turned up their mental toughness and got through it.”
Jessica Hasal) jump started an 8-1 run with three straight points at the end of the third quarter, and the Buffaloes went ahead 45-39 by the 5:27 mark of the fourth. That was their largest lead of the game.
Weston Ranch led by as much as seven, blitzing Manteca with its energy at the start of the contest for a 9-2 advantage. It was an uphill battle from there for the Cougars.
“First half we were on point,” Bauer said. “We executed everything that we wanted to and did a great job. We came out and we struggled in the third quarter. Nobody seemed willing to step up and we were just standing around looking for an answer. That hurt us.”
Briana White led Weston Ranch with 15 points and eight rebounds. Point guard Aljanea Brown added 13 points and six assists.
Weston Ranch 55, Manteca 41
The VOL-leading Cougars (11-0, 20-5) were able to pull out a decisive win despite foul trouble. Teresa Haley and Kelli Laughlin each poured in 12 points, while Victoria Gulley added 11 points, seven rebounds and eight steals.
Mildred Perez turned in 13 points and 17 boards for Manteca. Alyssa Burch contributed eight points and eight rebounds.
Manteca 42, Weston Ranch 32
Manteca (9-2, 16-3) grabbed sole possession of second place behind undefeated Sierra with Tuesday’s victory.
Leah Manuleleua posted 10 points and nine rebounds to spearhead the Buffaloes. Aryana Martinez grabbed 15 rebounds to go with seven points. Celina Burks added six points and nine rebounds.