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Manteca fends off EU to share VOL crown with Sierra
Manteca Highs Carlos Belmonte battles for the header with East Union defender Jose Luis Cerda near the Lancers goal area. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Each player on the Manteca soccer team knew East Union would be back.

The Buffaloes held a three-goal halftime lead, but East Union, fighting for a potential playoff berth, would not go away like that. The Lancers fought back but couldn’t fight off the inevitable, falling 3-2 as Manteca captured its first Valley Oak League championship since 2007.

“Last time we won it in ’07 we found out later on because of some technicalities,” Manteca head coach Justin Coenenberg said. “So to be able to celebrate this on our home turf in front of our fans in a game that we’ve all played all our lives, a game the players love and I love.

“To be able to do it here at Manteca High is a special feeling.”

Manteca came into the VOL season riding the wave of an undefeated preseason. The Buffs learned a lot about each other and a lot about winning. East Union definitely put the Buffaloes to the test, coming out with vengeance in the second half to eradicate the 3-0 deficit.

Manteca got a brilliant goal from Nacho Valdovinos in the 14th minute to get the Buffaloes on the board. Six minutes later the Buffaloes were back in business as Manuel Nuno sent a perfect cross into the box for a perfectly-timed leap and header from junior Jesus Ponce.

Valdovinos was back on the attack when he was fouled, setting up a penalty kick from Ponce, who didn’t miss. East Union couldn’t find an answer until the second half. The Lancers came out more intent on wining the contest, turning passive play over to aggressiveness and cutting into Manteca’s lead with a penalty kick goal from Jose Luis Cerda.

The momentum Manteca built in the first half was exchanged for the uneasiness that comes with closing out a championship season.

“I’m so proud of my boys,” East Union head coach Victor Polanco said. “We had a good practice and we came out here and played hard. The first half was for them, but I think the second half was East Union.

“I just want to congratulate Manteca.”

With the game and championship, in the balance, Manteca turned to standout keeper Abdiel Chiquito to preserve the lead. He didn’t flinch.

He made five diving saves in the game’s final 16 minutes, turning away a pair of point-blank shots in the waning minutes of the win. East Union was bringing everybody up, filling the box area and forcing Chiquito into the pressure.

“He’s been big for us,” Coenenberg said. “And for a little guy he has a tremendous heart. He willed himself to save some of those shots.”

The Buffaloes will take a few days off before preparing to advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Buffaloes will know their opponent early next week, setting up the section of the season they’ve waited all year for.

“We’re going to take three days off and come back Monday,” Coenenberg said. “By then we should know who our opponent is and we’ll start to devise a game-plan and refocus with a few solid days of practice.

“This is a big win too because we secure the No. 1 seed.”