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Ripon hangs with reigning champs
Modesto Christian capitalizes on free-throw disparity
Modesto Christian’s Raymond Bowles is sandwiched by Ripon High seniors Jared Ratto, left, and Andy Bunting while scrapping for a rebound in the second half. - photo by HIME ROMERO
RIPON — Rod Wright isn’t one to point blame at the officials.

“The referees don’t throw the ball out of bounds for us, and they don’t shoot the ball for us,” he said after his Ripon High boys basketball team dropped a 67-57 heartbreaker to Modesto Christian on senior night.

But he did acknowledge the margin of free throws attempted — 31 (17 made) for Modesto Christian to Ripon’s six (four made).

“You don’t usually see a 31-6 disparity that often, and I’ve never known MC to be a non-aggressive team,” Wright said.

As much as he shrugged it off after the game, he often pleaded his case during.

In the most crucial moment, he was whistled for a technical after disputing the fifth foul called on his best player, 6-foot-4 junior center Jake McCreath (12 points, 13 rebounds). McCreath appeared to have cleanly stolen the ball away from Mason Washington following an inbounds pass with 59.6 seconds to go.

Washington (14 points) made three of the four free throws to stretch MC’s lead to 66-55.

On Ripon’s next possession, Jared Ratto — one of the four seniors honored Friday — had a 3-point attempt rim in and out.

“When that 3 spiraled out I thought it was finally over,” said Ratto, who performed admirably and finished with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. “It (stinks) to lose another close one to them like that, but we played well.”

The win is the 90th straight in conference play for the Crusaders, a streak that started during their time in the Southern League, and they also clinched at least a co-championship in the Trans Valley League with two games remaining.

Modesto Christian (10-0, 20-4) will soon contend for a 12th straight Sac-Joaquin Section championship, and the TVL has provided the Crusaders enough of a challenge to keep them on their toes. They also had trouble with Escalon (74-64) and Riverbank (84-79), and in their first meeting with Ripon they led by 27 early in the fourth quarter and nearly blew it. Ripon got to within seven before falling, 76-62.

It’s the second time that the Indians, with their five sophomores, threw their best punch at the much-favored Crusaders and nearly scored a stunning knockout.

“It definitely helps our confidence,” said Herrin, who is a part of that sophomore class that includes Andrew Bonner, Josh McCreath, Kyle Wengel and 6-5 center Dante Machado.

“It gets us thinking that if we’re here this year, where can we go next year and our senior year?”

The Crusaders boast their own upstart underclassmen, most notably wiry 6-3 guard Raymond Bowles (11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists).

Ripon never held a lead but certainly made MC sweat after absorbing a 12-0 second-quarter run that had them trailing 41-26 at halftime.

Early in the fourth, Cole Herrin (12 points) knocked down two deep jumpers from the right wing — the latter a 3-pointer. Reserve post player Conner Jones (8 points, 6 rebounds) capped the 7-0 spurt to close Ripon in 53-51 with 4:39 left.

Ratto kept the Indians in the game with a 3-pointer that made it 58-54 with 2:52 to go, but MC’s Ryan Riner (18 points, 8 rebounds) countered with his own 3 from the right corner just 15 seconds later.

“We battled. That’s all you can ask for,” Wright said.