The two-game postseason set between Ripon Christian and Sierra provided bonus innings for both teams’ younger players this week.
That extra work was ultimately more valuable than the final results, but for coach John de Visser and his young Knights it was another opportunity to prove to themselves that they can play with the big boys.
Highlighted by Joseph DeBruyn’s go-ahead three-run homer in the fourth inning, visiting Ripon Christian rolled to a 13-9 for another sweep against the reigning Valley Oak League champion Timberwolves. The Knights featured six different pitchers who combined for a four-hitter, and three of those knocks did not leave the infield.
“If you told me we would win 11 games in the VOL I would have taken it,” de Visser said. “The reputation of the VOL precedes itself. I was not sure how the guys would respond. After getting swept by Manteca the first week of the season we went back to the drawing board, made adjustments and they paid off against Oakdale. We had early success and it kind of snowballed from there. The kids bought in right away and we scared a lot of teams this year. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys”
Sierra (10-8, 10-10 overall) ran the table in league play two years ago but didn’t get a chance to defend its title in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although championships are not awarded in the VOL this year the league attempted to run multiple tournaments this week, one for its top four finishers in the regular season. Central Catholic edged out Manteca 8-7 Thursday in the final for the top group.
Kimball, Weston Ranch, Escalon and Ripon opted to not participate in the consolation tournament, leaving RC and Sierra.
“We wanted to get two games in no matter what,” de Visser said. “It wasn’t for anything but a great opportunity for both of us to get better. It certainly benefitted our program and I hope it did for Sierra. I have a lot of respect for what they do over there. Any time you can go against a program like Sierra you take it.”
One of the smallest schools in the Sac-Joaquin Section, Southern Athletic League power Ripon Christian (9-9, 12-9) joined the VOL for just this season along with Ripon and Escalon from the Trans-Valley League. The Knights played just one game this season against a school close to their size, thumping Big Valley Christian 17-3 in a non-league tilt.
At one point in the regular season, Ripon Christian won six of seven games including a sweep of Sierra.
On Thursday, the Knights’ three seniors started along with six players who had little playing time this season. Sierra took the same approach and substituted many of its players throughout the contest. The Timberwolves led 6-2 after three innings. Angel Valdez had a two-run single in the first and finished 2 for 4. Blake Fonseca plated two runs.
Ripon Christian responded with a five-run rally capped by DeBruyn’s big blast in the top of the fourth. Sierra had a chance to get out of the inning on the previous at-bat, but it was extended by an infield error. The Knights broke it open with another six runs in the fifth.
DeBruyn finished with four RBIs and two runs, going 1 for 3. Fellow senior Caleb Terpsma went 2 for 4 with three runs and two RBIs, and Will Gilbert was 1 for 4 with a run and an RBI. Sophomore Eli Terpsma added a triple and three RBIs.
Sierra also led early in the series opener Tuesday, taking a perfect game and a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth.
“We fell back into our old patterns,” Sierra coach Travis Thomson said. “We were right there in situations to make a play or go ahead. That has been our story of this year. In a lot of our games, we were one or two plays away from having a different result.
“Moving forward, there are things we can build on. The good news is we competed against all the top teams this year. We’re real optimistic with what we have coming back, and knowing that they were in close games with top teams reminds the players that they deserve to be there.”