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Ripon teams return to NorCal tourney with high hopes

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POSTED November 24, 2009 3:48 a.m.

Tiger Shelton sees Ripon Christian’s first-round draw in the CIF State Northern California Championships as a good news-bad news proposition.

The good news?

“We’re playing in our own gym, we have nothing to lose and we’re playing great ball right now.”

And the bad?

“We got Castilleja.”

Ripon Chrsitian (17-16), coming off  its third straight Sac-Joaquin Section title run, will host the state’s defending Division V champion tonight at 7 p.m.

Crosstown rival Ripon (37-10) will make its fourth straight NorCal appearance on the road after a runner-up finish at the section level.

Shelton’s Knights know what they are up against but are not intimidated. Shelton said that Castilleja coach Tracie Meskell expressed some concern over a phone conversation.

Ripon Christian has the least impressive record in Division V, but so did Castilleja a year ago. The Gators went in 14-16 and went on to sweep their three NorCal opponents en route to winning the state title.

Ripon Christian is also 2-0 at home in NorCals over the last two years.

“We may be a little over our heads, but (Meskell) said we’re the kind of team she’s afraid of, and she should be,” Shelton said. “We have nothing to lose. Castilleja is extremely strong, and all I’m hoping for is our team playing the best ball it can and let the chips fall where they may.”

Ripon will look to repeat last year’s wild run to the NorCal title game. Last year, the Indians upset Menlo-Atherton in five games and lost to a familiar nemesis in Christian Brothers in the state semifinals.

Ripon led Christian Brothers two games to none in that contest but dropped the final three. Last Thursday in the section’s Division IV finale at UC Davis, Ripon nearly returned the favor by forcing a fifth game after dropping the first two. Ripon has dropped eight straight to Christian Brothers since 2006.

“If we both make it (to the NorCal final) again, and that’s a giant ‘if,’ it’s going to be barnburner,” Ripon coach Larry Keethe said.

Keethe isn’t looking past the Indians’ first-round opponent, even if he likes his team’s chances. West Valley of Cottonwood is 34-8 and a champion representing the North Section, which is comparatively weak to that of Sac-Joaquin.

Ripon travelled to 2008 North Section champion Sutter to open last year’s NorCal tournament and easily swept. The Indians are the third seeded team going in but must travel because it took second in their section.

“We may have the weakest opponent, but they’re good enough to beat us,” Keethe said. “They’ve got some good hitters, and we haven’t come close to being 100 percent healthy all year.

“I’m optimistic; I’m just hoping we don’t have a letdown. I don’t think the road trip will be a factor.”

To contact Jonamar Jacinto, e-mail, or call (209) 249-3538.

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