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Buffaloes pull away from Placer

Placer's season comes to an end in the first round of the section playoffs
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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MANTECA — Keeping Manteca’s top scorers in check was a tough enough task for the Placer High boys basketball team. When the Buffaloes took advantage of their other offensive options, things got a lot tougher — especially after the Hillmen’s adjustments enabled Manteca’s star guard to take over down the stretch. Manteca simply had too many scorers for Placer to stop in the Hillmen’s 81-63 loss to the Buffaloes Wednesday night in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III boys basketball playoffs. “We tried to deny their best players the ball, and they still got the ball,” said senior guard Josh Klem, who led Placer (16-12) with 22 points and 13 rebounds. “We had a good game plan. It just didn’t turn out in our favor.” The Hillmen initially focused on shutting down Manteca guards Kiwi Gardner and Ernie Pimentel. Gardner entered the game averaging 24 points a game, while Pimentel averaged 15. Pimentel was held to seven for the contest, and Gardner managed just 10 through the first three quarters thanks to Hillmen guards Clay Campbell and Josh Turney. Still, with junior center E.J. Godfrey using his thick 6-foot-5 frame to dominate down low for Manteca (23-5), the Hillmen had to find a way to stop him – even if it meant freeing up one of the Buffaloes’ other weapons. “Godfrey was hurting us inside,” Placer coach Mark Lee said. “We made some adjustments inside and started shutting him down, and their other players started making shots.” That was particularly true of Gardner, who broke loose for 16 points in the fourth quarter to seal the win for the Buffaloes. In all, Manteca had five scorers finish in double figures. Sophomore guard Taylor Hasal had 14 points, Godfrey finished with 12, and forwards Gerry Cooper and C.J. Rivas added 10 apiece. “Placer did a great job on our two lead scorers,” Manteca coach Dave Asuncion said. “They put a lot of pressure on them and hounded them all night. I challenged our guys in practice that if they used a triangle-and-two on us, to make the best of it, and that allowed our other guys to get open and make some easy shots.” For the Hillmen, Turney hit a game-high four 3-pointers to finish with 12 points, while fellow junior guard Darren Centi added 11. Senior guard Michael Jensen finished with nine, and senior center James Taber pulled down 11 rebounds. Placer opened the game strong, leading 27-21 at the end of the first quarter. However, the Hillmen had some trouble with turnovers in the second quarter, when they managed just eight points, allowing Manteca to tie the game up 35-35 at halftime. “They started pressing us a little bit, and we coughed up the ball a lot more,” Klem said. “That slowed us down a little bit.” Placer also had some trouble scoring off its offensive rebounds in the third and fourth quarters as things got a little physical near the basket. “Our guys worked their tails off in there,” Lee said. “There was a lot of pushing and shoving, and that made it hard to put the ball back in the hole.” Manteca took the lead for good early in the third quarter when a 3-pointer by Hasal put the Buffaloes up 40-37. Placer managed to pull within three points midway through the period but got no closer. Klem said it was tough to see his senior season end in the first round of the playoffs, but he still enjoyed the experience of getting there. “It was a good season,” he said. “We had a lot of fun with our group of seniors. It was a wild ride.”