LATHROP – Jaelen Ragsdale had his best performance in weeks on a night when Lathrop star Isaiah Ellis struggled just to stay on the court.
It should have been a recipe for overwhelming success for the Weston Ranch boys basketball team, but …
No formula is full-proof.
Ragsdale scored a game-high 19 points, including 17 in the first half, but it took a full 32 minutes to dispatch the shorthanded but cagey Spartans, 60-48.
“Ragsdale got us off to a great start,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said, “but we made some bonehead plays out there.”
Jazz Swanson had 15 points on five 3-pointers and Fred Lavender sealed the win with nine points in the fourth quarter, including a straightaway 3 with about two minutes to go.
The shot crashed through the rim as the shot clock expired, extending Weston Ranch’s lead to 55-45.
Lathrop would get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
The victory clears the way for Friday’s much-anticipated showdown with Sierra (8-0, 19-2), the Valley Oak League’s reigning champion and only unbeaten team.
Weston Ranch remains hot on the Timberwolves’ heels at 7-1, tied for second with Manteca.
Staying there wasn’t easy.
Lathrop gave the Cougars a scare. Weston Ranch scored six of the final eight points in the first half to lead 32-29.
“That was probably the most upset I’ve been at this team since we played in Fresno,” Teevan said. “We were in (the locker room) for quite a bit, so they knew what I expected.
“Since Central Catholic, we haven’t been challenged on the road, and we need to be. I thought the defensive energy picked up. When we play defense, we get out in transition. It’s really that simple.”
Weston Ranch distanced itself with a 10-0 spurt to start the third. Lathrop had more turnovers (8) than points (6) in the quarter.
“I don’t know why we were flat coming out,” Lathrop coach Nate McGrath said. “I talked to them about winning the third quarter. That was key for us and they took it to us. Give them credit. They’re so fast that it’s hard to defend them.”
Lathrop went long stretches with its leading scorer Isaiah Ellis on the bench. Ellis picked up three fouls early and was forced to cheer on his team’s scintillating second-quarter run.
Lathrop trailed 20-8 after one period, but caught fire from beyond the 3-point line in the second period.
Junior Ballard, Yancy Ram and Avraj Bal each hit 3s as the Spartans ripped off a 16-2 run and led 26-24.
Ballard finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Without Ellis, though, the freshman was prone to turnovers. He committed seven, including four in the second half.
Bal chipped in 13 and Ram had nine for the Spartans, now 3-18 on the season.
Ellis scored his only points with 1:17 left in the third quarter and immediately picked up his fourth foul.
“That hurt us,” McGrath said. “When you have Junior and Isaiah out there, you can’t focus on one guy. Junior is a big reason why we’re playing everyone so much better, but not having (Ellis) out there allows defenses to sag in the middle more.”
Central Catholic 49
In Modesto, Anand Hundal buried a mid-range jumper with 2 seconds left to keep the Buffaloes in the thick of the VOL title chase.
Manteca trailed by 10 points with about four minutes left in the game, but rallied to take a 49-47 lead on five straight points by reserve guard Ja’Juan Freeman.
Central Catholic tied the game at 49s with 30 seconds left, setting the stage for the Buffaloes’ 6-foot-8 center.
The play was originally drawn up for Tydus Verhoeven, who attracted a triple team and found Hundal all alone in the corner ... all alone in his sweet spot.
“He likes that shot,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said.
Slowed by foul trouble, Hundal finished with just four points, eight rebounds and six blocks.
Marcus Montano carried the scoring load with 20 points, including five 3-pointers. He scored eight of Manteca’s first 10 points.
Verhoeven finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals for the Buffaloes, who struggled for most of the game with Central Catholic’s zone defense.
Manteca (15-5) is now 7-1 in the VOL with a rivalry tilt against winless East Union on Friday.
East Union 54
Gyse Hulsebosch scored 11 of his team-high 21 points in the first quarter as East Union grabbed an early 20-11 lead.
“It was a glimpse of what we can do,” East Union coach Ryan Tarr said.But only a glimpse.
Oakdale regrouped and outscored the Lancers 37-16 over the next two quarters, including 25-8 in the second. Shane Baxter paced the Mustangs with 22 points.
Sierra 54, Kimball 46
Sacramento State-bound center Joshua Patton scored 25 points as league-leading Sierra improved to 8-0 in the VOL and 19-2 overall.
The Timberwolves slowly pulled away from the Jaguars. Sierra led by just three at the half, 29-26.
Weston Ranch 48
In Lathrop, Michael Mills scored 19 points and Lathrop closed the game on a 12-3 run.
Central Catholic 48
In Modesto, Eddie Santos (17 points) and Kameron Beamon (12) combined for 23 second-half points as the Buffaloes evened their VOL record at 4-4.
Weston Ranch 53
In Lathrop, the Spartans closed on a 22-8 run. Colin Weis (18 points) and Dan Ballesteros (17) combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Central Catholic 41
In Modesto, Four players scored in double figures for the Buffaloes. Isaac Bill had 13, while Kyle Boldin, Gino Campiotti and Kyle Rachels had 10 apiece.
East Union 54,
Drew Sena led three players in double figures with 15 and the Lancers survived a late flurry by the Mustangs.