Ed Mulder is still pinching himself.
“It was definitely unexpected,” the head coach said of Ripon Christian’s berth to tonight’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division V final, “but well-deserved on their part.
His No. 4-seeded Knights (16-7) are vying for the program’s 12th section title and first since 2002 with No. 3 Capital Christian (17-11) standing in their way at Sleep Train Center. The game is scheduled for a 4 o’clock tipoff.
To advance to this point they needed to upset top-seeded Woodland Christian (25-4) in Wednesday’s semifinal at Galt High. Ripon Christian overcame an early 15-3 deficit and mounted a 12-0 run late to prevail, 52-46.
This year’s Ripon Christian squad lacks the versatility and talent of its recent predecessors. Four seniors graduated from the 2014 Southern League championship team, and the Knights have moved back into the more competitive Trans-Valley League. But one thing in this team that Mulder will never question is its resolve.
“The kids wouldn’t quit (Wednesday) night,” Mulder said. “They played scared early but they had no quit in them and kept battling back. They were awesome in the fourth quarter. We outscored them 20-9 and executed very well.”
Ripon Christian appears to be peaking at the right time and has played well despite losing Nicole Graham to a knee injury in its second-round victory over Millennium. Mulder said that other guards have stepped up, namely senior Elisabeth Regusci. Hailey Van Laar started in Graham’s place in the semifinal, with Jessica Orozsco providing valuable minutes off the bench.
Double-double machine Carly Tillema and fellow 6-footers Pam Radach and Julia Ray have physical advantages over Capital Christian tonight, but the Sacramento-based school has the upper hand in other areas. It’s a classic clash of contrasting styles, as the Cougars look to quicken the pace with a full-court press while Ripon Christian relies on precision timing and passing in its more methodical attack.
“We watched Capital Christian (beat No. 2 Argonaut 54-46) and they’re definitely somebody we can contend with, we just have to keep them out of transition,” Mulder said. “They are quicker than us, and if we get into a running game with them it definitely favors them.”
Capital Christian is making its third straight final-round appearance and fourth overall but seeks its first section championship. Leading the way is senior Nicole Colbert, who averages 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. She is complemented by upstart underclassmen like freshman Elena Hall (12.6 points) and sophomores Cierra McClain (8.6 points, 3.2 assists, 2.3 steals) and Michaela Mahnke (8.7 points).
Capital Christian placed third in the Golden Empire League, while Ripon Christian was fourth in the TVL. Both took down conference champions Wednesday to set up their championship showdown.
“Capital Christian has the advantage having been there last year,” Mulder said. “The last time we were at sections these girls weren’t even in school yet. They’re excited. They look at the banners in the gym and they know the reputation the program has.
“They’re on cloud 9 right now. Hopefully they don’t have to come down from there tomorrow.”