RIPON — Gustine fans and coaches alike pleaded all game for their players to box out.
The vertically-challenged Redskins were boxing out, but to no avail.
It’s an apt illustration of how the Southern League season is playing out. Simply put, Ripon Christian is literally and figuratively head and shoulders above the rest. That much was proven Thursday night in what started out as a duel between the league’s two remaining unbeaten squads. It ended with yet another drubbing administered by the Knights, 63-40.
“Ripon Christian is a good team, very well-rounded,” Gustine coach Kingsley Borba said. “Good offense, good defense and they have some height. They were what I expected them to be. We were able to get some shots and handled the ball well, but we struggled with their size.
“That was the difference of the game was rebounding. They had a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
Ripon Christian (7-0, 13-4 overall), led by 6-foot-2 Amber Hilvers, outrebounded the visitors, 47-22. Hilvers was one of four Knights in double figures with 16 points that accompanied 10 rebounds and two blocks. She asserted herself at the outset, accounting for eight of RC’s first 10 points.
“Amber Hilvers is really coming along,” Ripon Christian coach Ed Mulder said. “We’ve been talking about her being more aggressive and we saw that tonight.”
Reserve center Carly Tillema contributed 11 points and eight boards. Ellen Blankers and Teagan Manus each chipped in 10. Manus, the SL’s reigning MVP, also had nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals, three blocks while holding four-year varsity starter Gabrielle Clark to just four points.
“They kind of took Teagan away but the other girls stepped up, and Teagan did a good job of distributing the ball to other people,” Mulder said. “She’s that type of player. It was overall a good team effort.”
It was the team’s best effort in league, Mulder added. That’s a tip of the hat to Gustine, which has given Ripon Christian its stiffest challenge thus far. Sophomore Sujey Luna paced the Redskins with 21 points and six steals.
“(Luna) is quick and shoots the ball well,” Muler said. “They don’t have a lot inside but their outside game is pretty good. Gabrielle Clark is a pretty good player but I thought Teagan did a very good job on her.”
Ripon Christian held a 17-8 lead after the opening period and capped the second with a 10-0 run for a 33-17 halftime advantage. The Knights continued to pound Gustine inside and were effective in transition with Manus leading the charge.
Last year, Ripon Christian stunned Turlock Christian at home to force a title share. The second half of the league schedule looks to be drama-free for the Knights.
“We just work hard in practice and try to improve as much as we can,” Manus said. “It’s not as exciting because there isn’t that one game we can look forward to. We’re doing pretty well, and hopefully we can keep getting better for the playoffs.”
There actually is one game for them to get up for: the annual nonleague showdown with neighboring rival Ripon. That one is set for Saturday, Feb. 1.
“We’re looking forward to the Ripon game not only because it’s Ripon, but because of the competition,” Mulder said.
Ripon Christian 54,
This first-place battle ended in a rout favoring the Knights (6-0, 16-6), who were led by Hailey Van Laar’s 15 points and six assists. She also buried three 3-pointers.
Julia Ray pumped in 12 points, and Jessica Orozco had 11 points, five assists and five steals.
Ripon Christian 51, Escalon 21
Beth Weststeyn hauled down 26 rebounds while firing 15 points as Ripon Christian improved to 11-4 on the season.
Lyndsey Van Groningen turned in 17 points, four rebounds and three blocks. Molly Hoeksema added 11 points and five assists.