SACRAMENTO — It was at this gym two years ago that Weston Ranch missed an opportunity to face Valley Oak League nemesis Sierra for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship.
The Cougars will get their chance this time around after cruising past Manteca — another familiar foe from the same league and school district — 61-41 at Cosumnes River College on Tuesday. Junior point guard Jaelen Ragsdale paced all scorers with 24 points. Josh Dilg and Fred Lavender added 10 apiece for the Cougars.
Sierra and Weston Ranch shared the VOL championship in 2012-13 but only one got to vie for a section crown. Modesto Christian eliminated the Cougars and their talented core of seniors 63-58 and topped Sierra to earn the section title three days later.
“I think about that game all the time,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said. ‘That was the worst job I’ve ever done. We should have zoned . I just remember going in the night before that game thinking my players were better than Modesto Christian’s and my pride got in the way.”
That was during the young coach’s first year in leading Weston Ranch. Teevan returned to Cosumnes River College a wiser man, but still confident with a new set of weapons at his disposal.
“It’s a little bit different because I’ve been with these kids from the start,” Teevan said. “I’m happy my kids get the experience to play in (the section championship) game, whether it would have been (against) Sierra or Vanden. These are two programs that work very hard. They deserve it and we deserve it. We didn’t have an easy road to get here.”
The No. 9 Cougars (20-10) toppled a higher-seeded opponent for the third straight game. Their first two victims were Western Athletic Conference champion Central Valley and top-seeded Christian Brothers. On Tuesday they had to get past a team that had already beaten them twice by double-digit margins.
Anchoring those wins for Manteca (22-7) was 6-foot-8 forward Anand Hundal, who flirted with a triple-double in the first meeting (16 points, 13 rebounds, nine blocks) and a career-high 37 points in the rematch. Hundal (nine points, 13 rebounds), though, was clearly affected by deep bruising to his lower leg sustained in last week’s second-round victory over Rio Americano. And 6-7 sophomore guard Tydus Verhoeven (four points) was slowed by bronchitis.
Tyler Graves-Kelso and Frankie Lopez led Manteca with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“It played a factor but at the same time (Weston Ranch) wanted it more,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said of the ailing Hundal and Verhoeven. “I never saw much fight on our guys’ faces, I really didn’t. It’s very disappointing. I hope we learn from it.
“They’re playing well,” Lewis later added. “We knew it would be hard to beat them three times. Tough draw for us but that’s how it goes.”
The game was marked by three big runs, beginning with Weston Ranch’s 18-4 start. Manteca opened the second half with a 12-4 barrage capped by Marcus Montano’s 3-pointer, which gave the Buffaloes their first and only lead at 32-31. Ragsdale and Weston Ranch countered with 14 unanswered points, with the dynamite guard accounting for half of them.
The score got out of hand late as Manteca tried to extend the game by fouling, but Lavender and Ragsdale combined to go 8 for 9 from the stripe in the fourth quarter. Jordan Strane, one of the Cougars’ undersized posts, put the finishing touches on the win with a fastbreak dunk with 1:08 to go. The 6-3 junior finished with six points and 10 rebounds.
“I hadn’t had one in a while,” Strane said. “I had to get this one down.”