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Ripon poised to make run for section finals

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Ripon poised to make run for section finals

Francisco Gustin and his Ripon Indians open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs today in Lodi.

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED May 13, 2009 1:52 a.m.
The glass slippers appear to fit.

Now it’s just a matter of Cinderella dancing her way into the championship round.

After sneaking out of a wild Trans Valley League race and into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs, the battle-tested Ripon Indians — making their first postseason appearance since 2005 and first under second-year head coach Mark Whelan — have to like their chances when they open with Western Athletic Conference two seed Patterson tonight at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi.

First pitch is scheduled for 7.

Should Ripon get past Patterson tonight, either Mother Lode League champion Bret Harte or WAC No. 3 Hilmar — two teams the Indians are familiar with — await in the second round.

The other side of the bracket is a doozy, with previously undefeated TVL titleholder Escalon expected to meet defending section champ Central Catholic in a second-round best-of-three series. Escalon (26-1) was upset by Calaveras 9-1 in the opening round Tuesday, while CC squeaked past Summerville, 5-4.

“We’ve certainly looked at (the brackets) and it’s definitely a help for us to have the two best teams on the other end,” Whelan said. “But we have to concentrate on ourselves. All that matters to us is that we win our game (tonight).”

Ripon (11-11) is the co-runner-up in the TVL but earned the playoff pass by taking two of three from Modesto Christian.

Though they are not the most imposing, the Indians may be the most dangerous having won eight of their last 11, including a sweep of Hilmar over spring break. Their only losses over that stretch came against Escalon (twice) and Division I power Lincoln of Stockton, the San Joaquin Athletic Association champion.

Ripon met Bret Harte for a preseason contest on March 10, losing only 1-0 without its full complement of players. The Indians have since blossomed since their 0-4 overall start to the season, with key call-ups from the sophomore squad contributing to what started out to be a punchless offense.

“The guys realized that we have to get stuff done in practice in order to compete and get better,” Whelan said. “We really worked hard on breaking out of the slump offensively, and we have our shortcomings on the defensive side.

“But if we can hit and play defense I think we can play with everybody.”

Patterson (9-16) too went through its preseason struggles, and all of its victories came in league play. The Tigers had troubles putting up runs against the WAC’s top teams, and only one player (Nate Moyoral) holds a batting average above .300.

Patterson’s likely starter tonight will be David Gonsalves, who is 4-9 with a 3.47 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings.

“Unlike nearly everybody else in the playoffs, we haven’t seen Patterson all year,” Whelan said. “We don’t know what to expect from them, but we’re thinking that everybody is there for a reason. So we’re just going to take it one pitch and one inning at a time.”

Ripon is led by seniors Francisco Gustin (.438 average), Kyle Wagner (.397, five homers, 24 RBIs), Camden Dowhower (.344) and Colby Gomes (.328, three homers, 16 RBIs).

With no clear-cut No. 1 anchoring the staff, Ripon is blessed with pitching depth — which could prove key should it make a deep run. Michael Conway (2.60 ERA), Hayden Koch (3.07), Michael Mannix (3.69), Michael Donaldson (4.27) and Wagner (4.13) have shared time on the mound all season.

“All year long we’ve been relying on multiple guys to get it done,” Whelan said. “We don’t have one person on the team with a lot of innings, and our top guy (Conway) has only 35.

“That’s what’s key to the whole thing, and if we’re going to do well in the playoffs we need our pitchers to perform.”
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