Lejla Pepic came up big at the right time for Manteca on Monday night.
With time running down in the third period, Pepic snagged a rebound and drove the floor to the 3-point line where she cut loose a 3-pointer that got nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.
This started a 9-2 run which carried over into the fourth period and gave the Buffaloes a boost they would need as they held off Lathrop 46-39 in Valley Oak League girls basketball action at Winter Gym.
“We were able to pull away with some key shots,” Manteca coach Mary Ann Tolbert said. “Pepic’s shot at the end of the third gave us a little (breathing) room.
“It was nice to rebound from our loss (74-58 to East Union) on Friday with this win.”
The Buffaloes (8-1 VOL, 13-9 overall) led by three at the end of the first quarter and six at halftime. They did not pull away until that run started by Pepic )10 points, five rebounds).
“We didn’t run our defense like we wanted to in the beginning,” Pepic said. “But I think the difference in the second half was our defense. We started hustling more and pushing each other while putting pressure on the ball.”
Showing no ill effects from a knee injury earlier in the year, Sydnee Fryer had a double-double for Manteca with 12 points and 12 rebounds along with three assists and two blocks.
“My knee feels really good,” Fryer said. “I was really nervous about it but everything seems to be going back together. I feel great.”
Loretta Kakala was the third Buffalo in double figures, leading all scorers with 13 points and earning a double-double with 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
“We did good bouncing back from our loss on Friday,” Kakala said. “We worked on our defense. We had been struggling with our defense – it was sloppy on Friday – and it looked really good today.”
Tolbert was wary of the Spartans (5-4, 11-8) until the final buzzer.
“Lathrop is a team I never feel comfortable against,” Tolbert said. “We could have been up by 20 and I would have still thought they could make a charge back.
“They are a great program, I think they have a lot of heart and even with a minute left I was still counting points.”
Lathrop coach Dwayne Davis did not have an answer for the presence Kakala brings to the post.
“Playing against Loretta is like playing against a bull in a china shop,” Davis said. “Even though she muscles us around the floor, we keep on coming at her, but we have to finish.
“We are dying by not making the easy part of the game work for us, and that is layups and free throws. We just missed too many. I don’t care about officiating when we have point-blank layups we are missing and free throws that we are missing.”
Heaven Hudson led the Spartans with 10 points and Danya Phillips added nine.
Manteca 45, Lathrop 41
Frankie Lopez hit three free throws in the final 45 seconds and teammate Jasmine English added one more to give the Buffaloes their margin of victory and put Manteca in a first-place tie with the Spartans.
Lathrop’s Mary Cotton led all scorers with 18 points and Simran Kaur paced Manteca with 15 points.
Lathrop 24, Manteca 17
There was no sweet 16 for the Buffaloes.
Winners of 15 in a row, Manteca went scoreless in the first quarter and could not recover.
The Spartans’ Kryshara Gary led earned high-point honors with 8.
Kaetlyn Morenzone led the Buffaloes with five points. Hazel Vera added seven rebounds and Makenna Condit had four steals.