LODI — For the second time in school history, Ripon High is one win from a Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball title.
After knocking off the SJS Division IV No. 2 seed, the Indians outdid themselves, stunning Trans-Valley League foe Riverbank 53-46 to advance to Power Balance Pavilion for a title match up with tournament No. 1 seed Modesto Christian.
Ripon (19-12) established control in the second half, expanding on its five-point halftime lead by outscoring Riverbank 10-4 to open the third quarter.
The Indians continued to build their lead behind a heralded effort from senior Conner Jones, who was the difference down the stretch, leading Ripon with 12 points in the game’s final eight minutes.
“This was a huge game for us to win,” Jones said. “Because at the beginning of preseason everybody counted us out, saying that we wouldn’t even make the tournament.
“Now we are proving everybody wrong.”
Riverbank (23-4) trailed by as many as nine with just over three minutes remaining, but mounted a tenacious comeback, cutting Riverbank’s lead to 48-46 after sophomore Rolaun Dunham (14 points) sank his third 3-pointer of the second half. Both Cole Herrin and Jones (17 points) combined to make six of Ripon’s final seven free throws to seal the victory.
“This was a game you had to take,” Ripon head coach Rod Wright said. “We knew Rolaun could hit some shots at the end of games, but we were amazed he put a couple of them in. They had an off night shooting the ball and it became a very, very physical game.
“That’s the style we had to play, and they came through for us today.”
Jones and Herrin scored all but two of Ripon’s fourth quarter points, willing the Indians into another shot with Modesto Christian. Senior Jake McCreath contributed 15 points, yet made his most prominent impact finding Jones for easy buckets.
“Conner had to step up because we knew they would double and triple Jake,” Wright said. “We worked our game plan around making sure Jake would pass the ball and we’d look to Connor Jones inside. We are happy to get there, but there is business to take care of. Modesto Christian is a very good team. We’ve played two three-point games and we know that at Power Balance you have to play an inside game.
“Maybe we’re set up for it, who knows; I do know nobody wants to play us right now.”
The championship contest against Modesto Christian is scheduled for a 3 p.m. tip off Saturday.