STOCKTON — Asked last week who his team’s most valuable player is, Weston Ranch head coach Chris Teevan singled out D’Angelo Finley without hesitation.
A solid choice, given the 6-foot-3 guard’s all-around contributions to the team, but Teevan may want to reconsider.
Jaelen Ragsdale, the Cougars’ electric third-year varsity point guard, made a case for himself in Friday’s wild 72-68 victory over Manteca.
It was a much-anticipated matchup between the Valley Oak League’s squads and two of the best in Northern California — Manteca (3-1 VOL, 13-3 overall) entered the week ranked ninth by NorCalPreps with Weston Ranch (4-0, 13-4) checking in at 14.
But in this colossal clash showcasing four players standing 6-foot-8 and taller, it was the 6-foot, 160-pound Ragsdale who loomed largest, as he accounted for 21 of the Cougars’ 29 points in the fourth quarter and 34 points overall.
“Jaelen’s good, man,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “I have to give it up to the kid, he can play (and) he’s tough to guard.”
The CSU Stanislaus-bound Ragsdale exploded over the final two periods after scoring just six points in the first half. Teevan said he “never” tells his trusted point guard “to take over” but urged him at halftime to “get more aggressive.”
“I didn’t think I wasn’t aggressive, I was just trying to get other players going,” Ragsdale said. “When he told me that I just knew I had to turn it on. This is a big game; it’s what we’ve worked for all year.”
And he worked masterfully in crunch time when his team, hampered by foul trouble throughout, needed him most. Weston Ranch trailed by as much 10, 37-27, early in the third quarter and had 6-10 center Anthony Booker (four points, two rebounds) in foul trouble. Fred Lavender (13 points, 10 rebounds, three steals) picked up his fourth foul in the closing seconds of the period, and Finley (14 points) was whistled for his fourth early in the final quarter before fouling out with 55.5 seconds remaining.
Despite having the upper-hand in many ways for much of the second half, Lewis was still uneasy down the stretch.
“We knew it was going to come down to the end,” he said. “It was nice having a 10 point lead but we knew they were going to make some shots. We told our guys not to get too comfortable, they’ll weather storm.”
Then Ragsdale brought the rain.
He was able to get points in a variety of ways, making14 of 16 free throws, burying two key 3s in the fourth and fearlessly assaulting the heart of Manteca’s defense with the 6-9 post tandem of Anand Hundal (23 points, 13 rebounds, seven steals) and Kenny Wooten (15 points, five rebounds) roaming the paint. Ragsdale scored the Cougars’ final 10 points in the last 1:40. Tydus Verhoeven (11 points, five rebounds, four assists, three blocks) hit a 3-pointer in transition with 7.1 seconds remaining to give the Buffaloes a glimmer of hope, but Ragsdale responded with two straight free throws that iced it. Dwight Young made three 3-pointers and contributed 15 points for Manteca.
“I think (Manteca) did real well (defensively), they blocked shots a few times, but he’s so quick and fast,” Teevan said of Ragsdale. “He’s gotten more mentally tough that it’s hard to get a guy like that coming at you at full speed over and over and over.”
Josh Dilg and reserve forward Jordan Strane (five points, eight rebounds) were also instrumental down the stretch. Dilg converted two free throws that gave the Cougars a 62-61 lead with 3:28 to go but also had two rebounds, three assists and a steal in the fourth. Teevan also credited Booker’s late-game defense of Hundal, who was held scoreless in the final six minutes of the fourth.
“The biggest part of the game was when Anthony came back in,” Teevan said. “We were able to guard him straight up, make him shoot over us and get in better rebounding position. I thought that’s what changed the game.”