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Defense anchors Ripons blowout win in D3 opener
Mika West (12) of Ripon puts pressure on Livingstons Tony Rocha during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff game held at Ervin Zador Aquatics Center on Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

RIPON — Third-seeded Ripon began its Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title defense Thursday with a one-sided 13-3 win over No. 6 Livingston at the Ervin Zador Aquatic Center.

The opening-round tilt served as a tune-up match for a more challenging one to come. Up next is Christian Brothers of Sacramento, which defeated the Indians 8-7 during the Sierra Shootout earlier in the season. The No. 2-seeded Falcons (16-10) defeated No 7 El Dorado, 10-5.

“It’s nice to have a little prep game because we’re going to have a real tough game against Christian Brothers,” Ripon coach Erik Zador said, adding that his team needed to work out the kinks after a two-week layoff from game action. “We’re going to have to be on our game.”

They were mostly on their game Thursday, particularly in the second half when Western Athletic Conference champion Livingston (7-4) was held scoreless. Ty Wells led the stingy defensive effort with four steals to go with four goals scored. Diego Moreno, one of just two seniors on the squad, added two steals, two blocked shots and a pair of assists. Freshman goalie Matthew de la O finished with 11 blocks.

“We’ve been practicing a lot on our defense,” Moreno said. “It’s been a long road since the beginning (of the season) since a lot of the team is freshmen and we only have two seniors.”

Noah Esenwein spearheaded the charge early on, scoring three straight goals for Ripon in the first quarter before finishing with four. He also contributed three assists and two steals before sitting out the entire fourth quarter with the Indians well ahead.

Livingston managed to keep within range thanks to two goals from Logan Friesen, and the Wolves trailed 5-2 after the opening period.

Ripon outscored Livingston 6-1 in the second to blow it open, getting three goals from Wells. Tony Rocha recorded the Wolves’ final goal with 1:35.77 left in the half.

Nick Gagnon contributed two goals for the Indians, and Mika West accounted for both of the team’s goals in the second half.

“In the first quarter we were forcing things that shouldn’t be forced,” Zador said. “Once we settled down we kind of got comfortable and started reacting a lot better and having better looks and better put-aways.”

Ripon squares off with Christian Brothers in the semifinals next Tuesday at Johansen High in Modesto. Opening sprint is scheduled for 10:15 a.m.

The other semifinal pits top-seeded Sonora (20-7) with No. 4 Dixon (21-6-3). Sonora, the Valley Oak League champion that snapped Ripon’s 19-game winning streak in league, downed Los Banos, 19-7. To have a chance at avenging that loss, the Indians must first get past Christian Brothers.

“It was a real close game but we had a more experienced goalie at that time,” Zador said of Ripon’s previous contest against Christian Brothers. “But on the other side of that we have four freshmen who were in the second game they’ve ever played, so I’m hoping they have learned a tremendous amount on the backside of the season. If we come out, play aggressive and don’t make costly mistakes we may have a shot.”