RIPON – Travis Vander Molen buried his head in his hands after misfiring on a point-blank header.
It was the only sign of frustration for top-seeded Ripon Christian in a resounding 3-0 victory over Victory Christian to start the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII tournament.
One of the premier finishers in the area, Vander Molen squandered his first look on goal. By all accounts, it was gimmie, too.
The cross came bending in from the right corner off the boot of Andrew Manes, a perfectly weighted ball that found Vander Molen in a crowd. The junior elevated and did well to redirect the service, but his header was straight at the goalie.
“I take pride in getting headers for goals, going up and getting it,” said Vander Molen, who plays the striker position like a rodeo bull, relentless and physical. “I had a lot of time to go up and get that one. I knew I had it. All I had to do was keep it down and I didn’t keep it down. That’s why I was mad at myself.”
Vander Molen wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, highlighting Ripon Christian’s playoff win with a pair of goals in a five-minute span.
His cousin Danny Vander Molen – the lightning to his thunder – chimed in with a second-half goal and an assist.
The top-seeded Knights (20-4-1) advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinal round, where they’ll host No. 4 Forest Lake Christian on Wednesday.
Forest Lake Christian ousted fifth-seed Cristo Rey in overtime, 1-0.
Thursday’s victory was Ripon Christian’s 20th on the season and an impressive opening statement to the rest of the D-VII bracket.
With 10 seniors, a 6-foot, 5-inch goalie in Lukas Vermeulen (one save), and a pair of proven goal scorers in Travis and Danny Vander Molen, the expectations are high for the Southern League champions.
“We know what we can do and we’re hoping to get to that section title game,” Travis said. “We have 10 seniors, if anything else, we’re trying to send them off with a bang because we know they’ve worked hard. We want to work hard for them and keep this thing rolling.”
“This thing” rolled right over Victory Christian, the No. 8 seed with a sub-.500 record.
The Vikings were overmatched from the start and played most of the game on their heels in the defensive end. Ripon Christian outshot Victory Christian 19-1, including 11-1 in the first half.
Travis and Danny Vander Molen set the pace, attacking the Vikings through the air with crosses.
Two minutes after wasting Manes’ cross, Travis atoned for his mistake on a corner kick from Danny. Travis pounded his header into the back of the net, punctuating the shot with a grunt and cheer, as Ripon Christian jumped on the board early.
Travis tacked on his second goal three minutes later, pouncing on a rebound at the back post to make it 2-0.
The quick start was just what Ripon Christian coach Keith Terpsma was hoping for.
“One of our goals was to start fast and star hard, and they did,” Terpsma said. “They scored in the 7th and 13th minutes, which got us up comfortably. We’ve had games where we’ve scored second and it’s not as easy a game after that.
“It really builds momentum and it builds confidence. The guys can rely on each other and they can play the game they need to play.”
Danny struck in the 47th minute with a breakaway goal after Victory Christian center back Mark Furtado misjudged a ball in the air. Racing alone on goal, Danny slipped his shot inside the right post for his 12th goal of the season.
Travis leads the team in scoring with 21 goals.
Terpsma praised his senior-laden back line for preserving the shutout, even as Victory Christian threw its best ball-handlers forward hunting for a late goal. A goal?
The Vikings had a hard time getting a shot off against Kyle Colyn, Coleton Hilarides and Jesse DeRousse.
“My three defenders are my three seniors that I’ve had together for a couple of years now. They know each other so well and I have complete confidence in their ability to shut teams out,” Terpsma said. “I look forward to having them in the next game and looking for another shutout.”