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Sierra sparked by Vannis late first-half goals
Brooke Grant is sandwiched by Sierra teammates Michaela Scott, 10, and Stephanie Vanni after scoring the first goal against Manteca Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
Manuel Pires felt like he was coaching two teams.

One team was slow to start the Valley Oak League opener against host Manteca Tuesday.

The other was downright impressive.

Sierra made the first statement of the regular season with its 7-0 victory over the dangerous Buffaloes.

The Timberwolves (12-0-1), who registered their ninth straight shutout, punched in their last four goals over the final 18 minutes of the match.

“I know Manteca is young, but I knew it was going to be a challenging game,” Pires said. “The kids picked it up in the second half, it was like watching another team.”

Standout forward Nicole Vanni accounted for four goals, and the first two were backbreakers.

Vanni took advantage of a mistake in which a Manteca defender attempted to clear it out of the Buffaloes’ own penalty box, booting it in off a single hop to make it 2-0.

And in the final play of the half, Kayla Cody delivered a well-timed cross from the left corner to Vanni, who deflected it in.

“It wasn’t our best game, but we did what we had to do,” said Vanni, who now has 25 goals on the season. “It took us a while for us to get warmed up and get the nerves out. Once we did we started playing our game.”

Brooke Grant collided with Manteca’s Renee Munson while chipping in the game’s first goal past goalkeeper Jimmy Collins in the 16th minute. Grant was set up nicely by Mariela Pimentel’s pass toward the left post from the top of the penalty box.

Michaela Scott notched the final two goals in the 73rd and 75th minutes, and her first one capped off the play of the game.

Stephanie Vanni’s cornerkick from the left side never hit the turf. Delaine Quaresma dropped a header into the penalty box for Scott, who sent it backwards with her own head shot for the goal.

Quaresma again hooked up with Scott on a give-and-go.

“They were moving the ball really well and creating a lot of opportunities,” Pires said. “We’re spreading the field pretty well right now. Everybody is playing very unselfishly. They play for each other, and that’s what I like to see.”

The uphill battle started early on for Manteca (6-3) when sophomore striker Airenne Curry had a hand stepped on and was rushed to the hospital with a possible dislocation.

“That hurts, obviously — she’s our leading scorer,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “We still played them pretty tough, but in the last 15 or so minutes of both halves we had breakdowns.”

The Buffaloes have little time to bounce back, with three-time defending league and Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion Sonora up next — and on the road. Sierra heads to Ceres on Thursday.

“I told them after the game that all this means is we’re not going undefeated in league,” Coenenberg said. “We have to move on, because we have another tough team to face on Thursday.”