Not even Hollywood’s brightest writers could have scripted a more compelling finish to Jadon Vander Molen’s high school career.
Wrap your head around these plot twists:
• In the winter, Vander Molen, a dead-eye shooter, helped guide the Ripon Christian boys basketball team to its first Sac-Joaquin Section title in 22 years. The Knights eventually finished No. 2 in Northern California, losing the CIF State Division VI Northern California final to Sacramento Adventist. That game was played at Ripon Christian, once a small-school state power. “It was fun,” Vander Molen said, “The ride with those guys and the coaches was a dream.”
• One season later, Vander Molen transferred his talents — and winning ways — to the diamond, where he and good friend Willem Hoekstra were the Knights’ only seniors. With Vander Molen in complete control from the mound and the plate, Ripon Christian finally broke through with its first section banner, defying youth and a history of heartbreaking playoff losses.
While back-to-back section titles in basketball and baseball is impressive, what makes Vander Molen’s story truly special is the way he and the Knights annexed the baseball banner.
Trailing by three in the bottom of the sixth inning in a winner-take-all final with Bradshaw Christian, Vander Molen stepped to the plate a chance to be a hero. With the bases loaded, Vander Molen crushed a “meat pitch” into a gap at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field. The knock cleared the bases to tie the game, and then an error on the relay allowed Vander Molen to plate the winning run.
Vander Molen stumbled into the bag at third base, but quickly regained his form and scored with a dusty slide as the Knights secured history with an 8-7 triumph.
For his efforts — and his Midas touch — Jadon Vander Molen is the Manteca Bulletin All-Area Baseball Player of the Year, another entry in an already sparkling resume.
"It really is storybook,” Ripon Christian coach John de Visser said. "At that point in our playoff run, there was no one else I wanted up. So many times we’ve been in that situation and haven’t come through.
“The only reason why we’re standing here with blue banner is because he came through. He’s the kid that finally came through and won’t be forgotten in the history of the program. He achieved; he did what so many others before him couldn’t.”
Truth be told, Vander Molen was an MVP candidate even without his championship moment.
He ranked among the team leaders in nearly every major statistical category, including average (.400), hits (30), RBI (28), runs (23) and doubles (five).
On the bump, the right-hander was 7-3 in 12 appearances and won six consecutive starts in April and May. He fanned 63 batters in 54.1 innings.
"You look into a kid’s eyes and you know it’s go time,” de Visser said. "There’s no looking away. There’s subtle confidence, like: 'I’m here, I’m going to get it done. Everyone relax.' He doesn’t yell. He goes out and does the job and expects other to do it, too. He has confidence.”
Even down 7-4 in the final innings of a section final, Vander Molen never flinched. He simplified his approach and drove a pitch out over the plate onto a conveyor belt in the gap.
“It starts by simplifying the whole process and trying not to make the moment too big,” said Vander Molen. "It was a big moment and it could have been easy to fold. In those kinds of games, you have to do what you can and trust your instincts. I think that’s what I focused on. I simplified. ‘Drive the ball, middle of the lineup, now’s the time to strike.’ We felt like we had it.”
In his final prep game, Vander Molen was 3 for 4 with five RBI, a triple and two runs. He and Hoekstra, the Southern League’s Pitcher of the Year, will continue their baseball careers at Dordt College.
"We had our baseball party and coach (de Visser) kept on saying, 'First time in 90 years. First time in 90 years. Wrap your minds around that, boys.’ It’s crazy to think you’re the first one to do that,” he said. "I couldn’t have asked for anything better."
James Burns has covered high school and collegiate sports in the Central Valley for the last 20 years. Follow him on Twitter @jburns1980.
MANTECA BULLETIN ALL-AREA TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year
Nolan Lingley, Ripon Christian, So.
Defensive Player of the Year
SS Alex Gouveia, Manteca, Jr.
Pitcher of the Year
Willem Hoekstra, Ripon Christian, Sr.
Pitchers — Ryan Ward, Manteca, So.; Slyder Blyth, Sierra, Jr.
Catchers — Brandon Rainer, Ripon, So.; Carlos Drain, Weston Ranch, Jr.
Infielders — SS Daniel Marquez, East Union, Sr.; 1B Brayden Hardcastle, East Union, Sr.; SS Jesse Ortiz-Martinez, Sierra, So.; 2B Austin Cappas, Weston Ranch, Jr.
Outfielders — Chase Sperbeck, Sierra, Sr.; Gino Campiotti, Manteca, Sr.; Donald Cooksey, Ripon, Sr.
Utility — P/OF Rylan Tinsley, Weston Ranch, Sr.; P/OF Jacob Peterson, Sierra, Sr.; INF/P Kyle Rachels, Manteca, Sr.; 3B/OF/P Shawn Cummings, Lathrop, Sr.; P/INF Eric Jaquez, Ripon, Sr.