Sophomore guides Manteca past Sierra

MANTECA -- The fans poured into Winter Gymnasium, half wearing the green of Manteca High and the other half the blue of Sierra.

They were there for the Valley Oak League boys basketball game of the year.

The doors were closed by halftime of the junior varsity game, forcing some to wait in the rain in the hopes they would be let in.

Those who got a seat for Friday's game weren't disappointed.

Manteca High sophomore Kiwi Gardner scored 33 points, including six in the extra period, as the Buffaloes held off Sierra in an emotional 73-69 overtime victory Friday night.

It was a battle for first place in the Valley Oak League between the crosstown rivals. Manteca (20-3, 9-1) is all alone on top. Sierra (16-6, 8-2) is a game back.

"You couldn't ask for a better game than this," said Gardner, who scored a season-high 36 points in their first game, a 75-59 Manteca win. "Sierra's a great team. They played a great game."

The Timberwolves hung with Manteca behind a gritty effort by guard Christian Williams, who poured in 34 points. Most of those points came on drives to the hoop, with defenders all around him.

At times, Williams and Gardner traded baskets; each trying to one-up the other with spectacular plays.

"Two great players," Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. "That's what you expect from those guys in big games. They were both in the zone."

The teams traded baskets on each possession for the final four minutes of regulation. Every time Manteca took the lead, Sierra would answer. But when Ernie Pimentel made two free throws for a 60-57 Manteca lead with 28.2 seconds left, it looked like it would come down to a final long-range shot for Sierra.

Instead, Williams drove the left baseline, putting up a shot from about six feet away that floated through the net as he was fouled by Buffaloes center Dominique Barnes. He made the free throw to force the extra period.

Gardner and teammate Laron Bennett made 3-pointers in the extra period as Manteca pulled away for the victory. Much of the crowd stuck around, congratulating the Buffaloes.

"I've never played in front of this many people," Gardner said. "It was just like a playoff game.

"And now, with four games left, they're all playoff games."

Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at or 578-2300.

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