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Knights eye 13th SJS title after warding off Bradshaw Christian
Bradshaw Christian-Ripon Christian
Ripon Christian’s Luke Crivello dribbles while pressured by Bradshaw Christian standout Josh O’Neal. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Another Sac-Joaquin Section championship wasn’t even on Ripon Christian coach Mark Hofman’s radar when the season started three months ago.

“We have three seniors returning, and that’s it,” he said. “I thought that if we could maybe piece together 15 wins and get a chance at the top three in league … I really wasn’t sure what we had.”

With almost an entirely new lineup, the Knights are heading back to the SJS Division V championship game to defend their title after holding off relentless No. 4 seed Bradshaw Christian 60-49 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal on Tuesday.

Top-seeded Ripon Christian (23-6) is riding a 12-game winning streak and gunning for its 13th overall Section crown Friday when it takes on No. 6 Futures (26-5) at UC

Bradshaw Christian-Ripon Christian
Ripon Christian center Jace Beidleman blocks the shot of Bradshaw Christian’s Josh O’Neal.
Davis starting at 4 p.m. Futures stunned No. 2 Fortune Early College 67-59 in an all-Sacramento semifinal. Ripon Christian downed Fortune in the D-V final last season.

“A lot of people didn’t think we’d get back to this point,” senior guard Luke Crivello said. “It doesn’t come around too often getting to a Section final. It seems often right now, but it’s a privilege to be able to go back and have a chance for a second one.”

Crivello led all scorers with 19 points and hit some big buckets down the stretch to help stave off the Pride (18-13) from Sacramento. He turned a steal into a three-point play after scoring a coast-to-coast layup, giving the Knights a 49-41 lead early in the fourth quarter. Crivello later drilled a baseline floater and iced the win with two free throws in the final minute.

The sophomore trio of Jake Vander Veen (16 points, five rebounds, two steals), Mason Tameling (11 points, eight rebounds) and Amos Cady (five points, six rebounds, two steals) had different ways of impacting the game.

Vander Veen said the team is much improved from where it was just a month ago and that past experiences in big games helped in crunch time Tuesday night.

“We couldn’t put them away (earlier), but we were comfortable throughout the game,” Vander Veen said. “This team is resilient.”

Senior Jace Beidleman added nine points, five rebounds and two blocks, but his main contribution is shown more on Bradshaw Christian’s side of the scorebook.

Much of what the Pride does runs through 6-foot-3 senior guard Josh O’Neal, who came into the game averaging 17.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He was flummoxed by the 6-8 Beidleman, who drew the assignment of guarding Bradshaw’s top playmaker. O’Neal was held scoreless in the first half and had just one rebound and an assist.

Bradshaw Christian-Ripon Christian
Jake Vander Veen takes the contested shot for Ripon Christian against Bradshaw Christian defender Caleb Carson.
O’Neal eventually got untracked as the fouls began to mount for Beidleman and the Knights. He finished with 16 points, seven boards, three steals and three blocks.

“What Jace does is take away what the other team is trying to do,” Hofman said.

With O’Neal quieted in the early going, junior guard Ethan Rickert kept Bradshaw Christian within striking distance. The Knights rolled to a 17-6 lead in the first quarter after getting 3s from Crivello, Tameling and Vander Veen, but Rickert scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half including four made 3-pointers.

“They’re a good team with a lot of weapons,” Crivello said. “We knew No. 2 (O’Neal) is pretty good, but other guys stepped up. That’s how it goes sometimes. Bradshaw smoked Escalon earlier this year.”

Escalon is the last team to have beaten Ripon Christian, doing so on a buzzer-beating layup. The Knights have since claimed the Trans-Valley League championship and are zeroing in on bigger prizes ahead.

“These kids do all the work and got me to Section (final) again,” Hofman said. “For a lot of teams, that’s the dream.

“It’s almost a different team — we lost six seniors,” Hofman said. “These guys have been growing, learning, implementing and are being effective now. I’m surprised watching them sometimes. We’re peaking at the right time, that’s for sure.



Bear River 76, Ripon Christian 32

In Grass Valley, the top-seeded Bruins (22-7) built a 26-7 first-quarter lead and didn’t look back. They’ll take on No. 3 Valley Christian (20-6) of Roseville in the final round Friday at UC Davis.

No. 4 Ripon Christian (16-12) was led by Reagan Van der Hoek’s 14 points and 13 rebounds. Maddie Yonker had 11 points, eight boards, two steals and two blocks. The Knights will next compete in the California Interscholastic Federation Northern Regionals starting Feb. 27. Brackets for the state playoffs will be released Sunday afternoon.