GALT — Jaelen Ragsdale relaced his shoes, stretched his legs and ran in place.
He was ready for more, even though the final buzzer had just sounded.
That was more or less how he celebrated his 32-point outburst and Weston Ranch’s 76-61 victory over No. 4 Placer in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals Wednesday at Galt High. The top-seeded Cougars are heading to Sleep Train Arena for a second straight year, but Ragsdale and Co. aren’t patting themselves on the back just yet.
Weston Ranch (26-4) was handled by Valley Oak League and Manteca Unified rival Sierra in last year’s championship round, and it finds itself in a similar situation with No. 3 Manteca High standing in the way of the program’s first section pennant. The Cougars are 0-2 in section finals.
“(Returning to the section finals) is definitely not our goal,” Ragsdale said. “As everybody knows, we made the section finals last year and we want revenge. This is just another step to where we want to go.”
The CSU Stanislaus-bound point guard is a big reason why the Cougars are taking that step. He scored 13 of his points in the crucial second period which started with Placer leading 18-10. Ragsdale scored nine straight points — two 3s sandwiching a conventional three-point play — early in the quarter, and Weston Ranch later mounted a 10-0 run. Placer was held without a field goal for the final 2:52 of the first half, but Jordan Ferreira made two free throws to even the score at 33-33 by the break.
“The biggest moment of the game was the beginning of the second quarter,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said. He also celebrated his 28th birthday on Wednesday. “It was 18-10 after one and it could have really gotten away there, and that’s when (Ragsdale) really stepped.
“We took a punch there and got settled in. He’s just good. At some point players are just good. It’s hard to guard him when he’s shooting like that.”
Ragsdale buried four 3s and was 10 of 12 from the free-throw line.
Fred Lavender and D’Angelo Finley were also key. Lavender, who shot 13-for-15 from the charity stripe, added 23 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Finley struggled from the field early but finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Finley sparked Weston Ranch at the start of the fourth quarter, expanding what was a one-point lead with a 3-pointer from the corner followed by a coast-to-coast bucket after pulling down a defensive rebound. That put the Cougars up 54-48, and they iced the win with a 14-3 rally highlighted by 10 points from Lavender.
Weston Ranch was able to pull away despite its two centers — 6-foot-10- Anthony Booker (three points, four rebounds) and 6-5 Jordan Strane (two points, five boards, two blocks) — each picking up their fourth fouls in the third quarter. That forced the Cougars to go small, with the 6-3 Finley guarding Placer’s 6-8 standout, Jeremy Lillis (14 points, five rebounds).
“One of our biggest advantages in every game is our versatility, and it comes back to Fred and D’Angelo and Josh (Dilg) because they can guard and play multiple positions,” Teevan said. “D’Angelo guarded their (center) for the last quarter and a half. That versatility wins games for us.”
Giovanni Roberts led Placer with 19 points, and Jack Kearns had 10. Roberts ignited the Hillmen at the outset, hitting nine 3s en route to scoring 12 of his points in the opening quarter. Teevan said he was not surprised by the play of Placer (26-4), which can still set a school record for most wins in a season in the CIF State Northern California Regional Championships next week.
“There’s a lot we can build off of, but at this point you just try to win and move on,” Teevan said. “Whatever team you play at this point in the season is a high-level team. No one is scared to play us, no one is scared of the moment. We’re in times now where you better come and play or you go home. Our guys don’t want to go home just yet.”