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Knights claim San Joaquin Section Division VII championship
Knights claim San Joaquin Section Division VII championship
Ripon Christian’s Sarah Brown is safe at second as the ball gets away from Stone Ridge Christian’s Cameron Murphy on Saturday in a 7-2 win in the opener Saturday in Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII playoff action at Arnaiz Field in Stockton. - photo by DAVE CAMPBELL/ The Bulletin

STOCKTON – Ripon Christian entered the championship round Saturday needing to defeat Stone Ridge Christian twice to defend its Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII banner won last season. And defeat Stone Ridge Christian twice Ripon Christian did, first 7-2 with a defensive gem and in the winner-take-all contest Ripon Christian gave a clinic in clutch hitting, winning 8-3 at Arnaiz Field.

 Of the eight runs for Ripon Christian (21-6) in the finale, seven were scored with two outs.

“Our whole year we have been up against the wall and our mantra has always been that when your back is up against the wall, come out and keep swinging and come out and keep fighting,” Ripon Christian coach Lenny Rizutto said. “We have said that all year long. We had some really nice two-out rallies in the second game. We practiced two-out situations a lot – every single day in practice.”

There was no bigger two-out hit in the game for Ripon Christian than Elizabeth Thomas’ towering two-run home run in the third inning to make the score 4-0.

 “That girl is a potential threat every time she is up at the plate,” Rizzutto said of Thomas. “She has been in a little bit of a slide but she has been strong, hitting the ball and keeping it in play.

“She bounced back for this game and there is no better game to bounce back in than the championship game with the season on the line.

Thomas (2 for 3, home run, two RBI, two runs) was part of a 13-hit attack that saw the top half of the order on fire with the first five batters combining to go 10-for 19 with a home run, three doubles and seven runs.

“I visualized what I wanted to do,” Thomas said. “I saw the ball going over the fence before that at-bat, I saw the pitch I wanted and it went over the fence like I hoped it would. ” 

Sarah Brown (2 for 4, double, two runs), Nicole Chapman (2 for 4, RBI, double), Madison DeGraaf (2 for 4, run) and Morgan Van Elderen (2 for 4, RBI, double, run) rounded out the Ripon Christian offense.

In every offensive classic there is a little defense to showcase, and Ripon Christian’s center fielder Kelly Engel had her highlight-reel moment in fifth inning. Eleanor Nelson led off the fifth for Stone Ridge Christian (17-9) with a towering shot to center field. Engel got a great jump on the ball and running toward the fence she reached out and made an impressive over-the-shoulder grab.

“I was thinking I had to run really, really fast to get there and catch it,” Engel said. “I had an eye on it all the way.”

 As she has almost all season, de Graaf threw every pitch for Ripon Christian on Saturday, and with the help of her defense she cut the high-octane offense of Stone Ridge Christian that averaged nearly nine runs a game this season by more than half, allowing just five runs on Saturday and seven total in the three games between the two teams in the tournament. She struck out 11 and yielded 13 hits in both games.

“It was a roller coaster of up and down, up and down,” De Graaf said. “But we kept it positive by staying up and not getting down on ourselves. If something went wrong we shook it off and got ready for the next play.”

 Ripon Christian employed some stellar defense in winning the opener, but none was more stellar than a 1-2-3-1-5 triple play in the fourth inning. 

With one across, no down and the bases loaded for Stone Ridge Christian in the fifth, De Graaf fielded a sharp grounder and got it home to Thomas for the first out. Thomas fired to Van Elderen at first for the second out and Van Elderen got the ball back to De Graaf as the play appeared to be over.

Although the Stone Ridge Christian runners who started the play on first and second had advanced safely to second and third, they each tried to pick up an extra base and De Graaf alertly got the throw to Chapman at third who got the tag down before the runner scored to end the inning.

“After Morgan threw it back to me I didn’t quite know where to go with it,” de Graaf said. “Nicole at third was yelling for me to throw it to her so I did and we got her out.” 

Ripon Christian added two double plays – one unassisted by Van Elderen at first when she fielded a line drive and doubled up the runner to end the fourth inning. The game ended when with Stone Ridge Christian runners on first and second with one out, Chapman fielded the ball at third, stepped on the bag and got the runner at first.

The big inning for Ripon Christian in the opener was a four-run fourth highlighted by de Graaf’s two run single, scoring Ariel Vander Woude who had walked and Sarah Brown who had singled. Chapman reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on an error and de Graaf scored on a sacrifice bunt by Engel to make the score 7-2.

Adriana Arias walked to start the Ripon fifth and was followed by a bunt single by Rylie Nunes (2 for 4, run). Both scored on a single by Brown (3 for 4, two RBI, two runs) for a 3-1 lead. Brown scored the first run of the game when she led off the first with a single, stole second and came in when Thomas’ hard grounder to shortstop was too hot to handle.