RIPON — Mario Roach considers Ripon an “up-and-down” team that forces a frenetic pace with defensive pressure and constant movement on offense.
Conditioning shouldn’t be an issue for the Indians at this point with all the running they’ve done in practice, punishment for their inconsistencies from the free-throw line.
In Friday’s Trans-Valley League opener against Hughson, Roach converted two free throws with 9.9 seconds to help seal a 65-62 victory. Hughson’s Tyler May missed an off-balanced 3 from the left wing at the buzzer.
Ripon (1-0 TVL, 10-8 overall) was coming off a tough-to-swallow one-point loss at Livingston in which it shot 9 for 25 from the foul line and missed 10 from the stripe in the fourth quarter. The Indians were 16-for-39 in their last two pre-league contests combined. They made five of 10 Friday — a mild improvement, but Roach made two when his team needed them most.
“No pressure at all,” Roach said of his key free throws. “All we do in practice is work on free throws. After our game at Orestimba we did a lot of running. We didn’t even pick up a ball, just ran. So when I got to the line all I was thinking about was running and how I didn’t want to run all practice again.”
Ripon was anchored by its guards, who played aggressively on both ends of the court. Roach led the charge with 21 points and came up with four of his six steals in the fourth quarter. Aaron Paschini had seven steals to go with 15 points. Cole Stevens was stellar all around, finishing with 19 points, eight points and six assists. The trio accounted for all eight of Ripon’s 3-pointers.
“Once we see one of our teammates on fire that just triggers something in us,” Roach said. “It’s contagious.”
The Indians came out firing at the start and led 13-2 after Stevens’ coast-to-coast transition bucket, but it was their scrappy defense, which forced 22 turnovers, that set the tone. Cody Haines settled for four points but contributed seven rebounds and four steals to the cause.
“We’re an up-and-down team, we don’t want to go slow,” Roach said. “We wanted to put the pressure on the ball and make the game go faster.”
Hughson (0-1, 10-6) proved to be up for the challenge after starting a step slower than Ripon, which never trailed in the first half but had the Huskies on its heels at the break, 40-38. David Kitchens pushed Hughson ahead for the first — and last — time with a free throw early in the third quarter.
Jimmy Puls (10 points, 12 rebounds) later kept Hughson in the running with a put-back layup that made it 63-62 with 11.8 seconds left. Roach was immediately fouled following the inbounds pass.
Jake Garza led the Huskies with 17 points, and May chipped in 16.
With only 12 league games, Ripon coach Rod Wright said every game means that much more, especially those played at home. Getting this one against a dangerous Hughson team was a good start in what is expected to be a wide-open race for the championship and postseason berths.
“They’ve been the perennial fourth-place team but this year they have all seniors (starting) so this could be their run,” Wright said. “They have a shot at it, too. I’m just glad we were able to pull this out.”
Ripon Christian 76,
In Hilmar, Ripon Christian (1-0, 11-4) trailed 34-32 at halftime before taking over in the final two periods.
Travis Vander Molen keyed the Knights late, scoring 13 points in the first 5 minutes of the fourth quarter. He knocked down three 3s down the stretch and wound up with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Sean Broker added 29 points and nine rebounds, and Danny Vander Molen dished out 10 assists.
Alec Cano had 17 points for the Yellowjackets (0-1, 9-9), who buried seven 3s in the first half but were held to just two in the second.
Ripon 61, Hughson 17
Rhet Herrin spearheaded a balanced effort with 15 points, as the game ended with a running clock. Louis Candido contributed 13 points to the blowout, while Louis Candido registered 12.