RIPON — No matter what, George Contente and the seniors on his Ripon High girls basketball team were going to go out as champions.
Completing an undefeated run in the Trans-Valley League with a win over their rivals made it all the sweeter Tuesday, as the Indians edged visiting Ripon Christian, 34-31. The rematch was much more competitive than the 64-42 clobbering from three weeks ago. Contente, who earned his third championship in his 11th and final season as Ripon’s head coach, didn’t expect the same kind of result.
“Of course not,” he said. “It’s against Ripon Christian, great game, great atmosphere. I had one of those feelings it was going to be a close game. I know the kids were just trying so hard, and when you try too hard sometimes things don’t go your way.”
Things went the Indians’ way down the stretch after they trailed 25-21 going into the fourth quarter. Ripon (12-0 TVL, 19-7 overall) went ahead for good 32-31 after Savannah Clark converted a three-point play with 59.4 seconds to go. Senior point guard Jill Jamero made it a three-point game with 17.7 seconds left with her off-kilter shot from the baseline. She originally penetrated from the top of the key but momentarily lost the ball on the way in.
“I just knew I had to get the shot up,” Jamero said. “I was hoping it would hit something and luckily it went in.”
Jamero is one of six seniors on the team, and she lifted the Indians to victory with her game-high 19 points. Fellow senior Haylee Monroe had her usual all-around production, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Monroe also blocked Ripon Christian’s final shot of the game, a 3-point try from Nicole Graham from the top of the arc.
“We wanted to play our hardest because it was the seniors’ last official TVL game,” Jamero said. “We just wanted to have a moment that we could cherish and remember for the rest of our lives, so I guess it was a little nerve-wracking.”
The three-year starter added that Contente’s retirement from coaching was added incentive for the team.
“It was so special,” she said. “We’ve been talking about this, how we wanted to end the (regular) season on a high note because he’s graduating like us.”
Graham paced Ripon Christian (8-4, 14-11) with 10 points despite nursing a sore hamstring. Bailey Broker contributed eight points, 10 rebounds and three steals. The Knights gave themselves a chance in the second meeting by hustling back on defense after Ripon forced turnovers or came down with defensive rebounds.
“We kept them out of transition and we didn’t really let their quickness get to us like it did last time,” Ripon Christian coach Ed Mulder said. “Last time we were basically even with them going into the third quarter and then we let them get into transition for easy buckets.
“All in all, going into the playoffs I thought this was a good game for us to prove that we can play with good teams,” Mulder added. “They beat us by 22 points last time and tonight we were right there. A little break here and there and we win it.”
Ripon Christian joins runner-up Mountain House and Ripon in the postseason and looks to reach a second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division V final. Ripon has a tougher road in Division IV. Brackets will be released Thursday.
“It’s one game at a time at this point,” Contente said. “We wanted to win out to get the higher seed and hopefully we get a home game. We’ve done our part and now it’s up to the (section’s postseason) committee. We’ll be ready for it.”