Menlo held off Manteca in the CIF Division III Tournament.
Ethan Kassel/Prep2Prep

Menlo grinds out win over Manteca

March 2, 2022

ATHERTON — The Menlo Knights lived by the three in Saturday’s CCS Division IV Championship win over Palma, knocking down 13 3-pointers to beat the Chieftains.

In Tuesday’s CIF Division III first-round matchup with Manteca, they went cold from outside but managed to avoid dying by the three.

The eighth-seeded Knights hit five 3-pointers, a paltry number considering their small lineup and style of play, but still managed to fend off Manteca, leading wire-to-wire for a 51-45 win.

“Our shots weren’t dropping like they normally do, so we just had to accommodate for that,” said Daniel Solomon, who finished with 14 points and five assists in the victory.

Menlo (21-7) did heat up a bit in the third, going up 32-21 on back-to-back threes by Ryan Schaefer and Solomon before the Buffaloes fired back with a 15-5 run, using back-to-back threes by Noah Lyons and a Ryan Inderbitzin layup to trim the lead to one. Solomon’s 3-pointer at the buzzer sent the Knights into the fourth up 40-36, and that cushion held up throughout the final eight minutes.

A poor free throw performance by Manteca (20-12) certainly didn’t hurt the Knights’ case. The Buffaloes went just 3-for-10 at the line, including a pair of misses down 42-40 with 3:35 left. Solomon delivered a clutch layup at the other end, then fed Will Eggemeier for another lay-in to put the home side up six.

“We battled hard tonight,” said Eggemeier, who finished with a career-high 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Eggemeier and Solomon kept the Knights ahead when the Buffaloes locked in on Lucas Vogel, who scored nine in the first quarter but didn’t find the scoresheet again for the rest of the evening. Schaefer was also key after sitting for the entire first half. He hadn’t played since Thursday’s CCS semifinal win over King’s Academy, but came in early in the third quarter and instantly rewarded head coach Ben Batory with a 3-pointer. He also scored off a feed from Solomon to put Menlo up 35-28.

“He’s such a great senior, and he gives us a spark,” Batory said of Schaefer. “Every time I use him, he does good things. What kind of a coach am I if I can’t find more minutes for him?”

While Schaefer and Solomon were the only seniors to see the floor for Menlo, the ninth-seeded Buffaloes will be saying goodbye to four starters and a fifth member of their seven-man rotation. Justice Chase, one of those departing players, scored seven of his 13 points in the third quarter and finished with six rebounds. 6-foot-8 Mehtaj Mehrok scored just four but finished with eight rebounds and four blocks. Lyons, a burly 5-foot-10 junior with a linebacker’s body, scored 16 to lead Manteca.

“He’s been a spark off the bench for us all season,” head coach Jason Hitt said.

Lyons hit an early 3-pointer to break the visitors out of a slumber against a 2-3 zone, then drained two more in his nine-point third quarter. With bodies like Lyons and Mehrok, an undersized Menlo team could have easily withered, but the Knights played a fearless game.

“We knew that at some point we would have to scrap with the scrappers,” Batory said. If we felt them on our bodies, we needed to rip and go and show them that we can be aggressive and get to the hole.”

The Knights scored just three times from the floor in the fourth quarter, but all three baskets were fueled by aggression. Eggemeier’s spin move and finish off the glass restored a four-point lead after Lyons had cut it to 40-38 with a baseline layup, and the baskets by Solomon and Eggemeier down the stretch came by driving through the trees.

“My narrative is always East Coast tough. I don’t do a lot of things well, but I can bring East Coast toughness and resilience,” said Batory, a native of the Buffalo area. “I put on the boxing gloves in practice and toughen them up when they’re going for layups.”

Menlo will travel to Chico on Thursday for a 6 p.m. tilt with top-seeded Pleasant Valley (28-3). The Vikings won the CIF Division III Championship in 2018.

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