RIPON — The Ripon Christian High expected a tough fight from visiting Escalon on Friday.
The Cougars certainly didn’t disappoint.
In this Trans-Valley League clash, the Knights battled the Escalon through four lead changes before holding on to a 56-53 victory that sets up next week’s first-place showdown with in-town rival Ripon.
“Having Travis (Vander Molen) guard their top player was the difference,” said RC coach Ron Vander Molen.
In this case it was Chapman Mello who gave the Knights fits in the second quarter. Prior to that, RC (3-0 in TVL, 13-4 overall) had the hot hand, opening the game with a perfect six-for-six shooting from the field while claiming a 17-5 advantage.
Danny Vander Molen rattled home a pair of 3s and Kyle Colyn also hit from beyond the arc early on. Austin Alger chipped with a pair of pull-up jumpers just around the foul line.
The Cougars (0-3, 9-11) countered by catching fire in the following period. They not only controlled the boards but scored on second-chance baskets. “There were times we struggled getting rebounds,” said coach Vander Molen.
Leading the way was Mello, who delivered a trey during the 18-3 rally, putting his team ahead at the intermission, 32-29.
Travis Vander Molen drew the assignment on trying to contain Mello, who had 15 points at the half. “I just tried to keep him off balanced and not let him get into a (shooting) rhythm,” he said.
Still, Escalon had Sam Lattig to pick up the slack. He scored 9 of his 11 points in the second half. Mello was held to five points in the second half, finishing with a game-high 20 points.
The Cougars went back on top thanks to a Travis Vander Molen fast-break layup and Sean Broker’s power moves at close range.
In the fourth, Alger scored on a steal and drilled another pull-up jumper while Broker delivered on a couple of big free throws down the stretch.
Down 54-50, Escalon’s Marvin Lawrence buried a trey from long distance to make it a one-point game with 2.8 seconds left.
Alger was then fouled. He hit both free throws.
The Cougars had one last chance, needing a desperation trey to force overtime. “I told my players to just play tough straight-up defense,” coach Vander Molen said.
He was relieved afterward. “These close games are stressful,” Vander Molen added.
Broker led RC with 15 points. He also had nine rebounds, three steals and a block. Alger, who also had three steals, and Danny Vander Molen both netted 12 while Travis Vander Molen chipped in with 11.
“It’s great to come out on top in these close games – it makes for a good win,” Travis Vander Molen said.
Ripon 71, Riverbank 53
The Indians (4-0 TVL, 13-8 overall) beat host Riverbank at its own game Friday.
Trailing 33-31 at halftime, Ripon was forced to go to a four-guard lineup after big forward Cody Haines was whistled for his third foul 27 seconds into the third quarter. And off the Indians went, torching the Bruins (1-3, 5-13) 21-7 in the period behind 17 combined points from sophomores Aaron Paschini and Cole Stevens.
“We went short and competed with their short,” Ripon coach Rod Wright said. “At one point everybody on the floor was 6 foot or (shorter) except for Cole. It was steal after steal after steal and they got tired.”
Stevens finished with 24 points while Paschini ended up with 14. Mario Roach, who contributed 16 points, helped Ripon maintain its momentum by hitting three 3s in the fourth. Nik Keydeniers netted 14 to pace Riverbank.
Ripon caps the first half of TVL play Tuesday at home against Ripon Christian.