Ripon Christian High barely had to set up chairs on the San Domenico side of the scorer’s table, since the Panthers dressed only seven players for their first-round NorCal Division V girls basketball playoff game.
But as the host Knights quickly discovered, the strength of the San Anselmo-based team isn’t in their depth, but in their length.
For one of the few times in the long and highly successful history of RC girls basketball, the Knights found themselves at a height disadvantage, and the Panthers rode that to a 38-16 victory Wednesday night.
That score was not a typo. Ripon Christian (16-9) had no consistent way to score against San Domenico’s zone.
The Panthers (23-6) put long and lanky 6-feet, 3-inch center Aminat Oladunjoye at the back of their 2-3 along with 5-11 Darla Jackson, then spread their guards to the perimeter. Ripon Christian, already a challenged perimeter team, spent 32 minutes being reluctant to go inside, despite having space available for them in the paint.
“She (Oladunjoye) did an outstanding job with those long arms,” said RC coach Ed Mulder. “We’re not used to seeing that kind of height, so her presence in the middle changed everybody’s thinking.
“Instead of attacking the middle, we were afraid of the middle, and consequently we got nothing from the offense because they were giving us the middle. Instead of attacking and kicking the ball out, we tried to do it from the outside, and they just extended the zone to shut that down.”
The effectiveness of the Panthers’ zone was never more evident than in an 11:01 span smack-dab in the middle of the game. Ellen Blankers, who led RC with six points, scored after an offensive rebound with 3:51 left in the second quarter, pulling the Knights within 13-10.
But Ripon Christian, which committed 32 turnovers against a Panthers team that did not press, would not score again until Jessica Van Vliet hit a baseline jumper with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. By that time, San Domenico – which got 13 points from steady guard Rachele Nagler and 12 points, six rebounds and four blocks from Oladunjoye – had rolled out to a 30-12 lead, and the Knights’ season was done.
Mulder, however, had a different theory as to when the season actually ended. Ripon Christian has won 11 section titles on the girls’ side, second in the Sac-Joaquin Section to St. Mary’s, with 16. But the Knights haven’t won a blue banner since 2002, and 2003 was the last time the Knights had reached the final before last Friday’s 52-43 title game loss to Capital Christian.
According to Mulder, he was so excited about reaching the section final, passing that enthusiasm over to his team, that his girls might have suffered a huge emotional letdown in their preparations for the NorCal round.
“I put so much emphasis last week on the fact that we hadn’t been back to the sections in so long,” Mulder said. “The girls peaked. They were so excited last week, and then the practices this week, on Monday and Tuesday, were flat. It was a big deal for us last week, but maybe I overemphasized it.”
Despite finishing the season with back-to-back losses, thudding hard on their own floor in the season finale, Mulder called the season another success for a program that has seen many in its history.
“From where we started to where we finished, with the talent we had and the way the kids worked, we had a very successful season,” Mulder said. “They’re great kids, and that’s why you come back. If you come back just for the winning, then I’m quitting.”