The transition game is Ripon Christian’s bread and butter. And during much of the third quarter of Friday night’s Trans-Valley League showdown with archrival Ripon, the Knights controlled the defensive boards and kicked their running game into high gear as they pulled away for a 55-44 victory that clinched the conference title.
With one more league game to play, the Knights improved to 8-1 in the TVL and 18-5 overall, while the Indians dipped to 6-3 and 15-11. In another TVL showdown Friday, Riverbank defeated Hughson 60-57 in a matchup of third-place teams. The Bruins clinched the conference’s third and final playoff berth.
The Sac-Joaquin Section will release playoff pairings Wednesday, and the postseason will begin Friday with play-in games.
Ripon Christian led 27-22 at intermission, but a three-pointer by Ripon to open the second half made it a two-point margin. But the Indians would score just four more points in the stanza as the Knights continually limited their rival to one possession, rarely giving Ripon a second shot.
“It all started with rebounding,” said 6-4 senior Sean Broker, Ripon Christian’s leading scorer (21.4) and rebounder (8.2) this season. “Our coach stressed that in a timeout, that we had to get the boards and limit their scoring opportunities. They’re good shooters, but they can’t make everything.”
The Indians hardly made anything, and with RC controlling the boards, senior point guard Danny Vander Molen was able to catch the outlet pass and push the ball upcourt, where he found Broker (17 points) and 6-5 junior Lukas Vermeulen (six points) in the paint and Austin Alger (15 points) on the perimeter.
“That transition game really hurt us, with Broker inside and Alger outside,” said Ripon coach Rod Wright, whose team hit just 22 of 80 shots. “We didn’t expect to shoot as poorly as we did. We got the ball where we wanted; we just couldn’t hit the shots. There was a stretch there where nobody was hitting anything.”
Entering the final period, Ripon Christian led 45-29 and appeared content to milk the clock on each possession. The Indians’ full-court pressure eventually helped them climb to within eight with 52 seconds remaining, but the Knights hit key free throws down the stretch.
“I thought we might be in trouble tonight without Travis,” said RC coach Ron Vander Molen, referring to his nephew, guard Travis Vander Molen, who tore his right ACL and MCL against Hughson on Jan. 29. “What I was really happy with tonight is more and more guys are stepping up, and that’s great to see.”
Ron Vander Molen, fighting a chest cold, lost his voice Thursday night. He told his son, Danny, that he’d need to be the coach on the floor against Ripon, which was led by Aaron Paschini’s 18 points.
“I’m very comfortable doing that,” said the point guard. “I just let other players know what’s happening and try to communicate well.”