Even in defeat, Ripon High’s boys basketball team walked out of the Modesto Christian gym in Salida with new-found swagger back on Feb. 10.
“I don’t think they want to see us again,” Ripon coach Rod Wright said minutes after his team climbed out of a 20-point hole in the second half but fell short, 76-73.
It was the second time the Indians and mighty Modesto Christian were separated by a mere three points in Trans-Valley League play.
The first entanglement was played at a more plodding pace with physical action on both ends of the court. Different game, but the margin was the same: 38-35, also in favor of the Crusaders.
Perhaps the third time will be the charm for seventh-seeded Ripon (18-12) Saturday at Power Balance Pavilion, where it goes toe-to-toe once again with Modesto Christian (25-5), the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top-seeded team in the Division IV playoffs.
This time, a section title is on the line.
With the stakes raised, so too has Ripon’s confidence.
“Nobody wants to play us right now,” Wright boldly declared Wednesday night at Tokay High, where the Indians upset another TVL rival in third-seeded Riverbank. In the quarterfinal round, Ripon traveled to Angels Camp to knock off No. 2 seeded Bret Harte.
A Cinderella story? Maybe. Or maybe Ripon is peaking at the right time.
Since suffering back-to-back losses to Modesto Christian and Riverbank on Jan. 17 and 20, the Indians have won 10 of 11 games. And they’ve done it despite injuries and illnesses to key players such as brothers Josh and Jake McCreath and point guard Cole Herrin on the back end of that stretch.
Jake McCreath (13 points, 12.3 rebounds per game), a 6-foot-4 senior center, epitomizes Ripon’s toughness, and 6-1 forward Conner Jones has come up big in the postseason. Josh McCreath is emerging from the guard position after battling knee injuries earlier in the season.
And Herrin (13 ppg, 3.7 apg) is coming into his own as Ripon’s playmaker. In the second clash with MC this year, the second-year junior had a breakout performance that included 30 points, seven assists and three steals. He was outdone only by Modesto Christian sophomore Tyras Rattler, a Manteca resident who produced 31 points and eight assists.
Rattler averages 12.6 points per game, while 6-4 senior guard Raymond Bowles leads the team with 17.7. Anthony Townes, a 6-6 freshman center, chips in 11.9 points.
Modesto Christian has many advantages over Ripon with its superior depth, all-around athleticism and all-around size. It also has tradition on its side, as the Crusaders lead section schools with 13 section titles. And they haven’t lost a TVL game since joining in 2006-07.
Ripon will be making just its second SJS title-round appearance. The first was in 2005, when the Indians were shocked by Escalon 62-34 in an all-TVL final.