RIPON — Ripon Christian can’t use the same old excuses when it keeps on winning.
The youthful and depth-lacking Knights are suddenly in the thick of the postseason race after toppling Escalon 40-34 on Tuesday. They’re coming off a big upset of first-place Mountain Mouse and are winners of three straight in Trans-Valley League action.
“Now that these kids have played enough varsity ball we can’t use that as an excuse anymore,” Ripon Christian coach Ed Mulder said. He has just seven healthy players with five underclassmen getting significant playing time.
“They’re getting some good experience and it’s going to help us down the road, but it’s helping us now. We’re going to continue to make mistakes but they’re getting better every day.”
Emerging freshman guard Morgan Van Elderen and veteran center Elizabeth Weststeyn, Ripon Christian’s lone senior, spearheaded the big win with 13 points apiece. Van Elderen also grabbed eight rebounds and three steals. She drained a key 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 14 seconds left in the third, giving RC a 27-24 lead. And late in the fourth, Van Elderen grabbed an offensive rebound off her own missed free throw as the Knights (4-4, 9-12 overall) nursed a 36-32 advantage.
“She’s just getting more comfortable playing at the varsity level,” Mulder said of Van Elderen, who was promoted to the varsity squad during the first month of the season. “She still makes freshman mistakes and tries to do too much, but overall her aggressiveness and court sense has helped the other girls become better.”
Weststeyn is one of the beneficiaries. She went 5 for 6 from the free-throw line and sank four in a row early in the first period to give Ripon Christian a 31-27 lead that held up for the remainder of the contest.
“Free throws are really important to us,” she said. “We practice them constantly because we know that’s what helps us win games.”
Escalon (4-4, 13-9) led for the entire first half and much of the third quarter until Kelly Engle made two free throws to give RC its first lead at 24-22 with 1:27 to go in the period.
The Cougars crumbled down the stretch after their top two players — Jenelle Anderson (seven points, four assists) and Shelby McCune (11 points, 17 rebounds, three steals, three blocks) — fouled out.
McCune dominated at the outset, scoring eight of her points in the first quarter. Her length bothered Ripon Christian on both ends of the court, but losing Anderson, a fourth-year varsity point guard, was debilitating for Escalon.
“It’s tough. She’s our second-leading scorer, first in assists and second in rebounds — she does a lot for us,” Escalon coach Joe Dalpogetti said of Anderson. “When she’s not in the game everything just stalls on offense. Even when she’s not hitting her shots she’s creating and making it happen. She’s also our best defender. When she’s out it really hurts us.”
Escalon took its largest lead at 13-6 in the first quarter after Haley Boyd’s 3-pointer, but shots stopped falling for the Cougars. They were held to just five points in the second quarter and four in the third.
“We preach that if your shots are not going down to not let it affect your effort, but unfortunately it happens,” Dalpogetti said. “Just our inability to hit the easy ones and make our free throws, slowly it got to us mentally and the intensity just kind of dropped there.”
Escalon and Ripon Christian are tied for fourth place in the TVL and are 1 ½ games behind Ripon. The top three teams in the league will advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Knights could still get in without an automatic bid if they finish in the top eight of the MaxPreps SJS Division V rankings. They are currently 10th.
“It’s going to be tough for us to get there,” Mulder said, “When you go 2-4 in the first half of league it’s going to be hard to get into that top three, but if we keep playing well we have a shot.”
Ripon 47, Hughson 27
At Hughson, the Indians (5-2, 11-10) bounced back from two straight losses with a dominant defensive effort. They stretched a 19-10 halftime cushion with a 22-7 flurry in the third quarter.
Ripon held a 41-17 lead at one point in the fourth quarter before bringing in the reserves. Mariah Strickland fired eight of her game-high 10 points in the first half, and 10 different Ripon players scored.
Ripon Christian 36,
RIPON — Ariel Vander Woude accumulated 12 points and 15 rebounds to pace the Knights (4-4, 10-10).
Rylee Beidleman and Alexis Hilvers each contributed eight points and seven rebounds.