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RC, Ranch can clinch boys titles tonight
Senior Logan Vos has led Ripon Christian to an undefeated record in the Southern League, putting the Knights in position to clinch the title tonight against visiting Denair. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
Ripon Christian’s boys basketball team can put its run of second-place finishes to rest tonight.

On the line is a share of the Southern League championship. Its foil is second-place Denair (8-2, 16-7 overall), which trails the Knights (10-0, 18-5) by three games with only four remaining.

Last year, Ripon Christian suffered a heartbreaking 68-64 overtime loss to Victory Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game at Arco Arena, this after a runner-up finish in the Trans Valley League for the fourth time in five seasons.

“And we’ve had quite a few more (second-place finishes) before that,” said Ron Vander Molen, who coached RC’s last championship team 10 years ago.

Weston Ranch (10-0, 20-2) — coming off its biggest win of the season, an 89-84 slugfest in overtime against regarded small-school stalwart Modesto Christian — is in a similar spot in the Valley Oak League.

The Cougars, however, would have to capture a piece of the title on the road and against one of the conference’s hottest teams in Sonora (7-3, 12-9), which has won four straight including a pivotal 48-36 victory over Sierra and is always tough at home.

Sonora, led by 6-foot-4 standout Alex Kiriluk (14.5 points per game), previously had Weston Ranch on the ropes in a 47-44 loss.

Ripon Christian has the easier path to a title tonight.

The Knights have home-court advantage and two previous wins over Denair: A 64-44 drubbing in the consolation finals of the Riverbank Tournament, and a 64-56 road win in SL play. Defending champ Mariposa is the only other team in the conference stay within single digits of RC, losing 54-51 at home.

None of that matters to Vander Molen, not at this point. More so now than ever, he is preaching the “one game at a time” approach, drawing from heartbreaking experiences, both as coach and player, to drive the point home.

“We haven’t really talked about winning the title,” Vander Molen said. “I’ve told them stories of taking second because we lost some close games, just going off my experiences in the past.

“The best thing to do is to get them to focus on ‘right now.’ I’m sure they’re thinking about it, but to be honest we haven’t talked about championships at all. I just keep telling them that nothing has been decided yet.”

The game will feature two of the league’s top seniors in 5-foot-11 Denair guard Clayton McDonald (18.3 ppg, 4.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 5.0 steals) and 6-4 Ripon Christian forward Logan Vos (17.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg).