SACRAMENTO — They just keep coming at you.
Stockton Christian kept close with Ripon Christian for a half Thursday, but eventually superior size, speed and depth carried the day for the Knights as they ran ways with a 73-56 win for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI championship at Golden 1 Center.
“I think we wear teams down,” Ripon Christian coach Mark Hofman said. “If you watch our guys play, they rarely look like they are tired or they are not going to show it because they will be coming out if they are. They are in great shape and a lot of them are two- or three-sport athletes.
“We have had a lot of games where it is close in the first quarter, and maybe we are down a bit. In the second quarter we tend to get a little bit of an advantage and by the third or fourth quarter we start to get separation.”
The Eagles (28-2) wanted to stop the Knights’ transition game, but doing so came at a cost as Ripon Christian (23-7) outrebounded Stockton Christian 53-23.
“They didn’t seem like they wanted to battle for the offensive rebounds,” Hofman said. “They got back to stop our transition, but then we get every rebound. That is why we out-rebounded them like we did. We go after the ball. We are tenacious.
“The guys are coachable too. We make a lot of adjustments on the fly and that is hard to do, but we do it. And a lot of the credit for that goes to my assistants. They take care of all that stuff. I have great support — including parents, assistants and the school — and that makes a big difference. I can’t do it all on my own, I’m not smart enough. I need help.”
After taking the lead at 6-3 on a 3-pointer by Braden Van Groningen (28 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, two assists, block), the Knights never trailed again but took a while to pull away. The Eagles tied it up twice early in the second half before Van Groningen led Ripon Christian on a 16-5 run behind five offensive rebounds, six points and a steal.
“The thing I try and focus on is out-working my opponent,” Braden Van Groningen said. “On defense, that means getting into the right position, trying to beat my opponent to a spot and steal the ball.
“Getting those second-chance opportunities is a killer for them and really helps us out.”
Jacob Van Groningen, who received the SJS Sportsmanship award, posted a double-double with 15 points, 13 rebounds along with two assists, a steal and a block.
“As a team our philosophy is we send guys in to grab rebounds,” Jacob Van Groningen said. “We have a height advantage and use that advantage to grab boards.”
At 6-foot-8, Reed Van der Hoek was the tallest member of the defensive triumvirate for the Knights and led his team with 14 rebounds along with eight points. His intimidating stature often forced Stockton Christian players to alter their paths.
“I try to get my big, long, lanky arms out there,” Van der Hoek said. “I just try to get them in the way, because it discourages the other team from passing if they see my arms out there.
“Also, Braden, Jacob and I are all down there at the same time and we are all tall, big and strong, and that can be intimidating.”
The Eagles’ Jay Araya led all scorers with 17 points with teammate Tim Barber adding 17 points. Will Gilbert chipped in 10 points for Ripon Christian.
The waiting game now begins for the Knights as the pairings for the CIF State NorCal playoffs will be announced Sunday with the Knights likely to play on Wednesday.