RIPON — Ripon Christian garnered its fourth league championship in five years Friday night, but no one would blame the Knights for relishing this one a little more than the rest.
For one, the clincher for the outright Trans-Valley League crown came at the expense of neighboring rival Ripon, which had no answer for RC’s interior might in a 55-44 defeat. It is also Ripon Christian’s first TVL championship since 2001.
The Knights’ last three conference titles came in the Southern League. They steamrolled their way to a 54-2 record during a four-year hiatus from the more competitive TVL, the longtime home of the small parochial school’s oldest rivals. Ripon Christian developed a healthy rivalry with Mariposa in the SL, and it was the Grizzlies who knocked the Knights off the throne with two upset wins a year ago.
“Last year was a wake-up call,” Ripon Christian forward Sean Broker said. “Even if you might think you’re the best team you still have to work hard and that’s exactly what we did.
“We did not come into this game tentative at all. We knew it was going to be rough and that’s what happened, we just had to grind it out. It’s extremely pleasing. We’re cutting down our net right now and it’s quite an accomplishment for us.”
Broker powered the Knights (8-1 TVL, 18-5 overall) with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Austin Alger chipped in 15 points, while Danny Vander Molen registered nine points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Alger gave Ripon Christian a boost in the first half after Ripon (6-3, 15-11) closed the opening quarter on a 10-2 run, anchored by Aaron Paschini’s eight points, to tie it at 13-all. Paschini then buried his third 3-pointer of the game go give Ripon an 18-13 lead with 6:13 left in the half.
Enter Alger, who ignited the home crowd with three treys of his own in the quarter. Ripon Christian was ahead 27-22 at halftime and rolled from there. The Knights outscored Ripon 18-7 in the third, and Kyle Colyn’s baseline jumper in the first minute of the fourth gave them their largest lead, 47-29.
“We threw every defense we had at them, but Broker was too much of a horse from us and Alger shoots (well from) outside,” Ripon coach Rod Wright said. “Hats off to them.”
Paschini and the Indians cooled off considerably after their brief surge in the opening half. Paschini ended made his fourth 3 in the final quarter but ended up with 15 points after scoring 11 in the first half. He also had five rebounds and six steals, while fellow sophomore guard Cole Stevens contributed 10 points.
Cody Haines (five points, four rebounds, three blocks) and David Onochie had their hands full having to deal with Broker and the rest of Ripon Christian’s bigger post players.
Lukas Vermeulen (six points) and Jake Schollenberg (six rebounds), powerfully built at 6-foot-5 and 6-4, respectively, gave the Knights key minutes off the bench, especially when Broker got into foul trouble early on. Colyn, a rangy 6-3 wing, also gave Ripon problems with his length, finishing with eight points and seven boards.
“Jake came in and had a hand in every rebound, he was there boxing out,” Broker said. “Vermeulen did a fantastic job posting up on offense and got some rebounds, too. They’re important pieces to our team and I appreciate what they do.”
Ripon Christian coach Ron Vander Molen appreciates the hard work all of his players have put in, and he plans on showing it in the regular-season finale Tuesday against visiting Hughson. While in the SL, Vander Molen was able to give everyone ample playing time during blowouts. That hasn’t been the case in RC’s return to the TVL.
“We have some kids who really paid the price for us being in the TVL,” Vander Molen said. “My bench didn’t get minutes, but they’re going to get minutes against Hughson. I don’t know how (a possible loss) would affect our playoff situation but I owe it to them.”