GALT — Manteca’s quest for redemption has come full circle.
The No. 3-seeded Buffaloes defeated Vista del Lago 74-58 Wednesday at Galt High, setting up another all-Valley Oak League finale in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. They missed their chance at advancing to the championship round last year, losing decisively to Weston Ranch, 61-41. Sierra went on to beat the Cougars for the section banner.
Manteca is eager to snap its three-game losing streak against Weston Ranch, which outlasted the Buffaloes twice in the regular season to earn the VOL title. They’ll go at it again Friday night at Sleep Train Arena starting at 9.
“Huge motivation,” Manteca’s Tydus Verhoeven said. “We went out there last year and played terrible and didn’t want that to happen again. We’ve been hungry all year. Even after (Weston Ranch) beat us in league we stayed motivated knowing that we can get them back in playoffs.”
Verhoeven contributed 13 points in the win. Sharpshooting guard Dwight Young made five 3s on his way to a game-high 26 points. Manteca also had productive outings from 6-foot-9 post players Anand Hundal (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Kenny Wooten (14 points, nine rebounds, three blocks).
“I’m used to playing in big games,” Young said. “I just came out and wanted to play hard. It wasn’t just about scoring or anything, it was about playing hard and winning the game.”
The Buffaloes (25-5) had trouble putting away the pesky Eagles (21-9) from Folsom. Vista del Lago, seeded seventh, was coming off a dramatic upset of No. 2 Capital Christian and edged out defending champion Sierra in the opening round.
Manteca never trailed, momentarily silencing Vista del Lago’s rowdy cheering section with a tone-setting 13-0 flurry to start the game. Kenny Wooten punctuated the run with a fastbreak dunk.
“That was big,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “We wanted to start like that and we did, we followed through with the game plan. We keep telling the guys we’ve played in front of big crowds all year. I didn’t think it was going to faze us.”
Vista del Lago did not go away quietly, not even after trailing 48-33 through three quarters. The Eagles closed to within five, 50-45, thanks to a 12-2 run to start the fourth. Wooten aided the comeback rally by inadvertently tipping the ball through Manteca’s own hoop on a rebound attempt, and Luke Avdalovic — who led Vista scorers with 15 points — accounted for the final eight points of the barrage. Chris Fairchild added 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
“They’ve been underdogs this season and they’re not going to give up,” Verhoeven said.
Manteca eventually pulled away late. Wooten’s alley-oop slam, set up by a pass from Young, gave it a 60-52 lead with 2:12 remaining. The Buffaloes went on to make 12 of 19 free throws, though the misses kept Vista del Lago dangerously within range until the final seconds. They were 25 for 42 on free throws for the night.
“We didn’t play our best game at all,” Lewis said. “I don’t think we could shoot free throws any worse than that. A win’s a win right now, we’ll take it. We’re going to (the finals), man.”
Manteca made three previous appearances in section finals, losing in 1978 and 79 before winning the Division II crown in 1987.