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Clutch 3-pointer and a ‘lucky basket’ help Riverbank overcome Ripon
Riverbank-Ripon boys basketball
Landon Gillespie lets it fly from behind the 3-point arc in front of the Ripon bench as Riverbank’s Diego Felix tries to challenge the shot. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

Some unlucky breaks could be what keeps Ripon out of the postseason.

Riverbank certainly deserves credit for making plays when needed in its 35-34 win Friday at North Gym, including a go-ahead 3-pointer from Diego Felix during the helter-skelter final minute of this pivotal Trans-Valley League tussle.

It was a big shot in a game in which neither team shot well from any distance or the free-throw line — Ripon made six of 18 free throws, while the Bruins were 6-of-17.

Riverbank’s Rolando Bazan was the only player to finish in double figures with 10 points, and while both teams had trouble getting shots to fall, the junior guard had what should have been a turnover become a wild made field goal from the top of the key.

Late in the first half with the Bruins (5-3 TVL, 12-11 overall) trailing 16-14, Bazan split a pair of Ripon defenders while the shot clock was winding down. The ball flew out of his hands as he tried to pick up the dribble while spinning into the lane, but then it hit the backboard and managed to rattle through the hoop.

It was that type of the night for Ripon (5-3, 8-14).

“We had a lot of good looks that we didn’t quite finish, and they made some big shots when they needed to — and got one lucky basket,” Ripon coach Justin Graham said.

In the end, Ripon had chances to tie it or even take the lead coming out of two timeouts. Sophomore point guard Logan Lefebvre zipped a pass to an open Ty Herrin under the basket. Herrin missed the layup but was fouled on the shot, giving him another opportunity to knot the score from the charity stripe, as the Indians trailed 35-33 with 6.5 seconds remaining.

“That’s the nature of the game,” Graham said. “We got the look we wanted; we didn’t make it. That’s how it felt all game.”

Herrin made the first free throw and missed the second, but Marcus Madoski (seven points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) pulled down the offensive board only to have his fall-away jumper from the key rim out. Madoski rebounded his own miss and was tangled up with Riverbank’s Isaac Brenes. The Indians retained possession on the tie-up but only had 0.6 of a second to work with as Dawson Downs (three points, eight rebounds, four steals) set up underneath the basket for the inbounds play.

Madoski received the inbounds pass in the left corner but could not get the shot off in time.

“We played Riverbank defense,” Riverbank coach Ylii Lopez said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well and things weren’t going our way offensively, but defense won the game tonight.”

He gave Felix a nod for a play on defense after hitting the eventual game-winner with 53 seconds remaining. With the shot clock winding down and the Bruins trying to navigate around Ripon’s zone defense, Felix decided to launch from well behind the top of the arc and drilled the shot.

On the next possession, Felix drew a charge on the other end, leading to Erick Jimenez’s chance to extend the lead from the free-throw line. He made one of two to put the Bruins up, 35-33 with 17.2 seconds left.

“He has been our best shooter,” Lopez said of Felix. “Last year, he was our leading scorer and best 3-point shooter, but this year he has had some struggles. He showed the mental toughness tonight.

“Things weren’t going his way the whole game. That was actually his first 3, and this is a kid who is averaging three or four made 3s a game. To me, the biggest play of the game he made was that charge. We don’t win the game without him taking that charge. He’s a tough kid.”

Felix finished with five points (all in the second half), six rebounds and three steals. Bazan tallied eight rebounds, eight steals and four assists to go with his 10 points.

Landon Gillespie led Ripon with nine points. The Indians struggled with turnovers throughout, finishing with 23. They were ahead 20-16 at halftime, but the Bruins scored five unanswered points to start the second half while Ripon had four turnovers and a missed layup in the first 2 minutes, 5 seconds.

“That has been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Graham said. “We have a goal of being under 15 turnovers all game, and I don’t think we’ve hit it once this year.

“Two games in a row we’ve held opponents under 40 points,” he added. “We’re guarding, we’re doing well on the defensive side, but we’re making too many turnovers and missing some easy ones. We make a couple of those and we’re not in this situation.”

Ripon, Riverbank and Escalon are battling for the final two of three automatic postseason berths in the TVL. Ripon Christian is comfortably ahead of all three by three games with five remaining.

The team on the outside looking in may still advance to the playoffs with an at-large bid, which goes to those that finish in the top 15 of the MaxPreps’ Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV computer ratings. Coming into Friday’s game. Ripon and Riverbank were ranked 13th and 15th, respectively.

The Indians travel to Escalon next Tuesday. Ripon previously dropped a 59-56 overtime heartbreaker to their rival.