The Weston Ranch Cougars are clearly in good position towards clinch the Valley Oak League crown.
They helped their cause Wednesday with a 67-62 victory over rival Manteca High at a jam-packed Winter Gymnasium.
In this much-anticipated second meeting, Weston Ranch (8-0 VOL, 17-4) relied on the versatility play from the likes of D’Angelo Finley, Fred Lavender and Josh Dilg.
“We had guys who stepped up their game,” said Cougars coach Chris Teevan, who also got a boost from his reserves.
Weston Ranch, in particular, had to deal with foul problems in the second half, with the Buffaloes already in the bonus going into the final period.
At that point, Manteca (6-2 VOL, 17-4) trailed 55-45 but then went on an 11-2 run, getting 3s from 6-foot-9 center Anand Hundal and junior guard Dwight Young.
Nursing a slight edge, the Cougars kept their cool as Finley, off a pass from Jaelen Ragsdale, connected on a trey.
The Buffaloes responded with a Tydus Verhoeven basket, keeping the deficit close, 62-58.
Anthony Booker then got into the act. The 6-10 senior center was alone underneath the basket for the uncontested two-handed slam dunk.
Weston Ranch upped the lead when Finley, who ended up with a game-high 28 points, converted a three-point play.
“They hit several tough shots during the game,” said Manteca coach Brett Lewis.
Hundal, who led the Buffaloes with 22 points – he also nine rebounds, five blocks and a steal – hit a quick two to make it a one-possession game just as time was winding down.
Ragsdale, who sat out a good chunk of the second half after drawing his fourth personal foul, iced the contest by sinking a pair of free throws. He finished 13 points.
The loss was tough on the Buffaloes, who are looking towards closing out the season in the runner-up spot in the VOL along with a good Division III playoff seeding.
“If we’re to get better, we need to work even harder,” said Young, who netted 17 points for Manteca. “We want to play Weston Ranch again (in the playoffs).”
The game teetered back and forth through most of the first half, including seven lead changes and four ties.
Ragsdale got into his flow, hitting a 3 and burying a couple of mid-range jumpers to give the Cougars a 24-17 lead.
Weston Ranch also relied on the strong guard play on both ends of the court from Finley and Ragsdale.
“We’re doing the same things like before but only with D’Angelo, who plays an all-around game,” Lavender said.
Finley called it a good team victory. “From one to five, we played tough defense tonight,” he said.
Darren Igarta and Jordan Strane came off the bench for Ragsdale and Booker, respectively, contributing on defense during key stretches in the second half.
Manteca got the home crowd into the game momentarily in the third quarter thanks to a thunderous two-handed jam by Kenny Wooten, who had 13 points, six boards and three blocks.
Hundal closed out the third by defending the post with a pair of blocks.
Weston Ranch, which also beat Manteca a few weeks earlier, came right back with Finley delivering on a bank shot, Lavender scoring off a steal from Strane, and Dilg nailing a 3.
Weston Ranch 44
The Buffaloes led for the start to finish in this VOL preliminary game.
Weston Ranch 40
The Buffaloes (5-3 VOL, 10-10) withstood a strong comeback bid by the Cougars late in the game.
Offensively, they got balance scoring from Tarnjot Singh (12), Kyle Lynch (11), Omar Sanchez (10) and Saleem Safi (10).