By DAVE CAMPBELL
Pinpoint serving down the stretch and the offense of Cade Alger helped Ripon Christian stave off a comeback attempt by visiting Lathrop in non-league action as the Knights came out on top 25-14, 25-23, 22-25, 24-26, 15-13 in what both teams saw as a tune up for the upcoming playoffs.
“This game was about Lathrop and ourselves getting ready for the playoffs,” Ripon Christian coach Kevin Tameling said. “Both teams represent the south of the San Joaquin Section really well. They are a well-coached team and are fundamentally sound – a good athletic team.
“We both saw an opening in our schedule and thought it would be good to get together and help each other get ready for the playoffs.”
After winning the third and fourth sets, the Spartans (26-2) jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the deciding fifth set when Ryan Dotinga had the first service run for the Knights in the set, bringing the deficit from 8-5 to a tie at 8-8.
“I was telling my coach I was going to go for getting it in and not for power,” Dotinga said, “I did that on the first one but then I just started cranking it.
“That first one is what matters the most.”
Trailing 13-11, the Knights’ Braden Van Groningen (six kills) toed the service line and thanks in part to two blocks and a kill by Alger, Van Groningen was able to serve out the game for the thrilling 15-13 win.
“In that situation you just have to get the serves in,” Van Groningen said. “And once I get the serves over our team can do the rest.
“They were an incredible team and we haven’t faced a team like them this year. To show the grit that we showed was really special.”
Alger was on fire all night, slamming 31 kills with five blocks.
“I was able to find a spot in their defense that was exposed and I took advantage of that as much as I could,” Alger said. “I told the guys to stay aggressive because we are a tall team and we can hit over their block.”
Michael Kamps (three blocks) and Lukas Van Groningen dished out 15 and 22 assists, respectively. Jacob Van Groningen added 11 kills and four blocks.
Lathrop did not make it easy for Ripon Christian. Two points from elimination in the fourth set trailing 23-21, the Spartans crawled back into it with Jaden Vuong serving an ace to give Lathrop its first lead of the set at 25-24. Adrian Corona then got one of his 10 kills for game point, forcing the fifth set. “Tonight was definitely a playoff atmosphere,” Spartans coach Heather Anderson said. “That’s kind of what Ripon Christian’s coach and I were after to get us ready for the next level. Both teams stepped up to the challenge.
“Both of us being undefeated in league means we weren’t challenged much within our leagues so I think it was good for both programs to be challenged with that intense playoff atmosphere before the real thing.”
R.J. Carmesis dished out 43 assists and made 15 digs for Lathrop. Gabriel Gutierrez and Tyler Riggleman also had double-doubles for the Spartans, Gutierrez with 20 kills and 20 digs and Riggleman with 17 digs and 15 kills.
The post-season pairings are due out Friday with the play-in games on Monday and the playoffs beginning in earnest on Tuesday.
Sierra 3, Manteca 2
The Timberwolves (2-6 Valley Oak League, 11-14 overall) and host Buffaloes (3-5, 6-9) went back and forth before Sierra came out on top 25-23, 25-12, 22-25, 21-25, 15-12 to wrap up the VOL season at Winter Gym.
“It was a great night tonight,” Timberwolves coach Jane Schneider said. “The boys came out from the beginning wanting to fight one last time and to finish off the season strong.”
Noel Ruezga led a balanced Sierra attack with 23 assists, three aces and a kill followed by Brian Huynh (12 assists); Rafael Beltran (three aces, five kills, four blocks, four digs); Carson Hibbs (two aces, eight kills, two blocks); Brandon Tan (three aces, 15 digs); Austin Cook (three aces, eight kills, two blocks, three digs) and Cyrus Hunter (three aces, eight kills, three blocks, seven digs).
Manteca coach Kevin Bolding Jr. was pleased with the effort his team made in battling back.
“We dug ourselves a hole but we almost got out,” Bolding Jr. said. “We didn’t start out very well though.”
Rovick Hombrebueno tallied 30 assists for the Buffaloes. Adrian Gonzales had 15 kills and 22 digs and Zach Huffstutler made three blocks.
Weston Ranch 3, Kimball 1
TRACY – The Cougars (7-1, 13-3) overcame a slow start on the road and bounced back to claim a share of the Valley Oak League championship and the top seed for the playoffs with a 24-26, 25-11, 25-13, 25-22 over the Jaguars (1-7, 8-12).
“We started off slow,” Weston Ranch coach Debi Chavez said. “But once we got going we didn’t let up.
“I am proud of the way we finished league.”
The Cougars and East Union both finished with 7-1 league records and split with each other but Chavez said that as a result of Weston Ranch winning in four sets and the Lancers in five in their two contests the Cougars will be the top seed out of the VOL for playoff purposes.
Armondo Mendoza had 10 blocks and five kills for Weston Ranch. Raul Melgarejo added 11 blocks and three kills with Josh Ico (eight kills, two blocks), Andre Salazar (10 digs, five kills, five aces) and Lawrence Williams (five kills) rounding out the Cougars attack.