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Ripon locks down Los Banos in playoff opener
Los Banos-Ripon girls water polo
Ripon’s Hailey Schmidlke (7) and Tiffani Hunter attempt to block the shot of Los Banos’ Mykayla Duran (10). GARY JENSEN/

Ripon came out firing in its Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener Thursday against seventh-seeded Los Banos, and it started on defense.

The No. 2 Indians scored eight unanswered goals in the first quarter, capitalizing on turnovers en route to a 13-4 win. The Valley Oak League champions are back at Ervin Zador Aquatic Center for the semifinals next Tuesday against No. 3 El Dorado or No. 6 Casa Roble.

Ripon is a win away from returning to the Section final after achieving this for the first time in program history last season. Top-seeded Christian Brothers and No. 4 Dixon are in the other semifinal. Dixon edged the Indians 4-3 in the 2021 Division III title round.

“I was looking for them to come out strong defensively,” Ripon coach Erik Zador said. “We’ll have to play a really good defensive game, if we get to the finals and face Christian Brothers. Just wanted to set the tone for that — think defense, good press and high in the lanes. They came out that way very well. We were able to counter on the mistakes Los Banos made in their passing. That’s kind of what we’re looking for and the direction we want to head team-wise.”

Goalie Tiffani Hunter anchored the defense with 13 saves and four steals. Hailey Knief netted seven goals and two assists to pace the attack. Madeline Curtiss contributed two goals and one assist, and Sami Scheid had one goal and three assists.

Chloe Price, Hailey Schmidtke and Mia Sickler-Lopez added one goal apiece. Maddie Staley had two assists.

“We have a lot of seniors and this is our last year, so we really want that banner,” Knief said. “We got really close to it last year and we want to bring it home. Overall, our whole entire team is working for something. We all want that blue banner, so we’re keeping each other accountable, staying energetic and ready to go.”

Zador played the reserves for much of the final three quarters. Los Banos did not get on the board until Samantha Carter scored the first of her three goals with 5:32 left in the second period.