Weston Ranch’s girls basketball team officially clinched a playoff berth for a sixth straight year Tuesday night with a 67-40 rout at Manteca, but the Cougars are looking to raise the bar for the program.
Their first-ever Valley Oak League championship is within reach with three games to go, and they are no longer satisfied with just getting an invitation to the dance. So it’s understandable why head coach Chris Bauer wasn’t entirely satisfied with Tuesday’s sometimes-sloppy win in which his Cougars committed 31 turnovers.
“In spurts, yes,” Bauer said when asked if there was some reason for disappointment. “We go for two or three minutes and score six, eight, 12 points, whatever it is, and then we stall and don’t score for a while. We had a lot of unforced turnovers and errant passes; we just didn’t play well at moments. That’s something we’ve struggled with all year long.”
Elisabeth Alexander led Weston Ranch’s balanced scoring with 14 points to go with four steals and four blocks. A.J. Brown (seven rebounds, five assists, four steals) and Rauline Martinez (10 rebounds, four assists, four steals) each poured in 13 points. Kelli Laughlin chipped in nine points, and Victoria Gulley scored eight with 10 rebounds.
Weston Ranch (10-1, 17-6 overall) remains tied with Kimball for the VOL lead. The two square off next Tuesday in Tracy for the regular-season finale. The Jaguars emphatically won the first meeting, 55-35.
Bauer knows Tuesday’s effort would likely not be enough for the Cougars to avenge their only loss in league.
“Our biggest focus now is to get ready for the playoff push,” he said. “Are we playoff ready every possession of every game? That’s something that we’re working on. We’re still adding wrinkles to our game. Today we played a matchup zone, something that we’ve never done before.”
Manteca (4-7, 7-17) had its own struggles with turnovers Tuesday with 34. The Buffaloes had eight giveaways in their first 10 possessions, and their leading scorer, Jessica Hasal, picked up her second foul just 30 seconds into the contest.
All things considered they did well today stay in it for most of the first half. Down 19-8 after the first quarter, the Buffaloes made a run to close in by six, 22-16, after Abigail Behler (14 points) hit one of two free throws with 4:21 left in the half. Hasal spearheaded the comeback charge by scoring six of her nine total points in the first 3 minutes, 2 seconds of the second period.
Weston Ranch, meanwhile, was struggling from the field. The Cougars were held without a bucket for a span of 4:36 before Martinez ended the drought midway through the second. That ignited a 12-0 run that helped them recapture control of the game, and they closed the half with seven straight points to lead 41-20 at the break.
“We were right there and they went on a run in the last couple of minutes,” Manteca coach Cody Norman said. “All of the sudden it’s a 20-point game and that’s a big mental difference that you take into the next quarter. Right away coming out in the second half I could tell that mentally the players approached it differently.”
Weston Ranch 48,
In a tale of two halves, the Cougars shot out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead and were ahead 29-9 at halftime. Manteca threatened to make it a game late, shrinking what was once an 18-point fourth quarter deficit to single digits.
Jennifer Cruz and Sianne Singharath pumped in 13 and 12 points, respectively for Weston Ranch. Jyrianna King pulled down 15 rebounds while adding five steals and four blocks.
Manteca got 11 points each from Lean Manuleleua and Aryanna Martinez.