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Lady Knights cant clip Turlock Christian
Ripon Christian’s Raeann De Rousse puts up a shot but is denied by 6-foot-2 Turlock Christian center Marly Burton in the third quarter of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal at Galt High Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
GALT – The Ripon Christian girls basketball team closed a fourth-quarter deficit to one on a pair of free throws from Mikaela Alger with 2:38 remaining, but the Knights could only manage two points the rest of the way in its 55-45 Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Tournament-ending loss to Turlock Christian Tuesday.

Ripon Christian (12-15) fought as if its No. 11 seed meant nothing, going into halftime trailing the 26-22. Turlock Christian turned to its captain Amy Wright when it counted most. Wright, who took on the role of team-leader when leading scorer Haile Bergman fell to injury earlier this season, provided Turlock Christian with an offensive stability they’d turn to all evening.

Wright was limited to seven first-half points but got hot in the second-half, scoring all but two of the Eagles’ third-quarter points and six more in the final period. Algers’ free throws closed Ripon Christian’s deficit to 44-43 before a pair of Wright layups solidified Turlock Christian’s (26-4) trip to the Arco Arena finals.

“We had some leadership on the court that said that we don’t want to lose,” Turlock Christian head coach Edwin Santiago said. “Our captains Amy Wright and Candice Balswick decided it was their senior year and said ‘Let’s pick it up,’ and everyone responded to that.

“Candice and Amy have always been our sparkplugs.”
The Knights rode the second-half effort of Alger, a sophomore forward. Alger tugged and pulled for space in the paint, battling for rebounds and second-chance opportunities in the Ripon Christian post. Outsized by a Turlock Christian front-court that boasted a pair of six-footers, Alger finished with 13 rebounds, including eight in the first half to keep Ripon Christian close.

“Our seniors really, really wanted this one,” Alger said after the loss. “We all knew that we could only give our best and I feel we all went out and tried our hardest. We played well and we didn’t let them walk all over us like they thought they were.”

Ripon Christian defied the odds throughout the tournament, beginning with a convincing first-round win over No. 6 seed Trinity Prep. The Knights didn’t slow down, shocking the tournament field by upsetting No. 3 seed Wilton Christian 51-43 in a second-round overtime win.

The Knights had their eyes set on a Friday night showdown with No. 1 seed Bradshaw Christian for a section title, but the Cinderella slipper proved to be a few sizes too small. Senior Kelsey Tillema led the Knights with 14 points, while Alger added eight points to accompany the team-high 13 boards.

“The team that Turlock Christian faced in December is not the team that they faced tonight, and I think they would say that,” Ripon Christian head coach Kirk Tillema said. “Hopefully, everyone could see the improvement that the girls were able to make this season. Playing in the (Trans Valley League) really hardens you and makes you get better.

“I’m pleased with our effort. We gave them a good game up until those final two minutes.”

Ripon Christian claimed its first tie of the game at 17-17 and trailed 32-24 midway through the third-quarter for its biggest deficit of the game. Each time the Knights’ defensive efforts put them in position to nip closer to the Eagles, consecutive offensive miscues would leave Turlock Christian its valuable cushion.

The Knights still have reason to practice, earning a spot in the California Interscholastic Federation Regional Championships (NorCals) with its semifinal berth. Ripon Christian will likely get an unfavorable matchup, yet that is better than the alternative.

“I told the girls to hold their heads up and be proud of their efforts,” Tillema said. “We get to play another game. We don’t know where that is going to be, but we’re going to keep on practicing for another week.”