By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Manteca staves off rival Sierras late charge
Kiwi Gardner and the Buffaloes celebrate the win over their crosstown rivals. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Kiwi Gardner and Christian Williams took center stage, but Gardner’s Manteca Buffaloes stole the show.

The Valley Oak League’s biggest game featuring two of the conference’s most exciting players lived up to the hype.

Gardner outscored Sierra 25-22 in the first half by himself and finished with 36 points, and his supporting cast helped key Manteca’s 75-59 victory over host Sierra Friday.

Manteca (4-0, 15-2 overall) remains in first place in the VOL, while Sierra (3-1, 11-4) had its winning streak snapped at nine.

Sierra’s last loss came on Dec.12 when the Timberwolves were edged out by Johansen of Modesto 93-91 in double overtime.

“Anytime you come in here and win, it’s always a big win — always, no matter who you are,” said Gardner, who added six steals and four assists to his stat line. “If you’re the Lakers and you come in here and win it’s a big win.”

The sophomore sensation wowed the packed Sierra gym, which included a few college coaches and scouts, with his ball-handling wizardry, long-range touch and ability to finish acrobatic layups in the first half.

Gardner, in fact, scored all of the Buffaloes’ points in the first quarter to help his team stake a 16-12 lead.

Only four Buffaloes scored points, but all of them finished in double figures. Forward Nick Scheible pumped in 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, while Ernie Pimentel and reserve center Jorge Castro each finished with 10.

Castro played a big role in the third quarter, when he scored six points, to help keep Sierra at bay. He also grabbed a team-high six rebounds.

“This team is starting to come together,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “One night it might be Kiwi, the other night it might be Castro, Scheible, Pimentel or (Dominique) Barnes.

“We take what teams will give us, and it was Kiwi’s night tonight.”

Williams took his turn in the spotlight after putting up a quiet nine points in the opening half. He caught fire early in the third and ended up with 37 points while hitting six second-half threes.

“Our goal was to slow down Christian — we knew we weren’t going to stop him,” Asuncion said. “Once he gets hot, I don’t know who can stop him in this league.

“We were running two guys at him and he was still hitting shots. That’s a dangerous weapon.”

Sierra trailed by as much as 16 in the third quarter but was able to stay within striking distance thanks to Williams’ hot shooting.

Chris Choate’s bucket from the post made it a single-digit deficit, 62-53, with four minutes remaining, but Gardner’s teammates had already begun heating up as he cooled off.

Sierra took a big blow in the first quarter when 6-foot-4 center Tyler Willis went down with an injury with 2:38 remaining, leading to a 20-minute break in action.

Before that, Sierra went on an 8-0 run to go up 10-5 following Trevor Nogueria’s 3-pointer from the right corner. Gardner answered with six straight points to retake the lead, and Choate’s ensuing layup represented Sierra’s last lead of the night.

“Tyler’s our second leading scorer and our leading rebounder,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “That was a little momentum shift there, and it obviously hurt us.

“No excuses, though. Manteca outplayed us, outworked us and outcoached us. I give them a lot of credit. I just need to do a better job of preparing my guys.”