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First-half dominance enough for Manteca to dispatch Vanden
Manteca High forward Nacho Valdovinos turns and heads toward the Vanden goal for his first of two scores in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III second-round playoff game held at Guss Schmiedt Field Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca had an early lead thanks to Nacho Valdovinos’ two first-half goals, and the Buffaloes were able to stay on top thanks to clutch goal keeping by Abdiel Chiquito.

Thursday’s 2-1 victory over eighth-seeded Vanden propels them into the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

Manteca (19-2-3), the top seed, hosts No. 5 Central Valley — a 2-0 winner over No. 4 Benicia — next Wednesday at Guss Schmiedt Field.

“I guess I got pretty lucky,” Valdovinos said of his scores. “My team helped me out a lot. We didn’t know what kind of team to expect, but we knew we had to come in hard.”

The senior forward hit net with short-distance strikes in the 18th and 26th minute. His first goal came off a headed pass from Ramon Rodriguez, as Valdovinos controlled it in the air, turned and fired with one quick motion. Later, Valdovinos blasted in the insurance goal with one touch following Carlos Belmonte’s corner kick.

“When Nacho scored those goals it gave us some confidence,” Chiquito said.

As the game wore on, it was the eighth-seeded Vikings (11-5-4) of Fairfield gaining confidence.

Until the second half, Vanden had settled on taking the majority of its chances from non-threatening distances. Their one decent look in the first half was thwarted by Manteca’s Cesar Reyes, who cleared away Angel Garcia’s head shot with a header of his own.

Manteca was outshot 20-10 by game’s end but was more selective with its attempts. The Buffaloes were clearly the dominant team over the first 40 minutes, but for much of the second half they were on their heels.

Enter Chiquito, Manteca’s agile and fearless little net minder. As has been the case all season, he came up with some huge stops in key moments, finishing with seven saves. Vanden didn’t score until the final play of the game, when Alvaro Rubalcaba snuck it past him while camped inside the crowded goal area after Enrique Vega’s free kick.

“The time goes by so slow, and I just kept looking up at the clock not trying to think about it,” Chiquito said. “They were putting so much pressure on me, but luckily the defense helped me.”

Manteca can’t afford to ease its foot off the pedal in next contest, a rematch of its Sept. 4 nonleague showdown with powerhouse Central Valley of Ceres. The Valley Oak League co-champion topped CV, 2-1 on the road.

“I was pleased with the way we played the first half and kind of disappointed with the way we played in the second half, and that’s kind of been the theme all season long,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We haven’t played well with leads, so if I’m playing us I’d let us score a few goals.

“For some reason we get into this defensive shell in the second half and we talked about it several times. We have to get that figured out by Wednesday for sure.”