SACRAMENTO — “Tiger Claws” were never unsheathed.
That was the play Ripon Christian boys basketball coach Ron Vander Molen called with the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V title game tied at 61 and with 23.3 seconds left against top-seeded Victory Christian of Carmichael at Arco Arena Friday.
A turnover kept No. 2 RC from possibly ending it in regulation, and Victory (27-3) went on to capture its second section title 68-64 in overtime. The Knights (22-7) made their 15th section championship-game appearance and were attempting to earn their 10th overall title in program history.
The play was to result in a player driving toward the hoop off a screen from the top of the key with about 6 seconds left.
The sequence went as planned for 10 seconds. Isaac Norman charged toward the right wing and dribbled the ball off his foot, and it went sailing out of bounds to give Victory the last shot in regulation with 11.4 seconds to go.
The shot, attempted by Brad Hoffelt from the free-throw area, missed off the back iron but was called off after time had expired.
“It was just one of those things where Isaac was dribbling and was where he was supposed to be, but it went off his foot,” Vander Molen said. “That’s just part of the game.”
Reserve sophomore Clayton Coppernoll (nine points, seven rebounds) hit a 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining in the extra period to cap the final score, and after two missed 3’s from RC he secured the defensive rebound and the victory.
His brother, 6-foot-3 senior wing Nathan Coppernoll, was the player of the game with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and five assists.
Ripon Christian had to battle through unlucky breaks throughout. The Knights played well enough to have a lead in the first quarter but several open looks from point-blank range to the 3-point arc rolled out, and they shot just 30 percent from the field while trailing 13-9.
They also committed 17 turnovers, many of which came in bunches. Ripon Christian had four giveaways in overtime. Victory rung up nine straight points in the third all coming directly off steals.
“We just seemed to always have a couple bad breaks come in a row, and that game could have easily gone the other way,” said Ripon Christian forward Logan Vos. “There were so many factors that could have affected the game.”
It was another emotionally-charged affair in which RC valiantly charged back from early deficits. In the semifinals round at Galt High Tuesday, the Knights were down double digits for most of the first half before upended defending Division V champion Bradshaw Christian, 63-62.
On Friday, RC led just twice and was down by as much as nine, 41-32, in the third.
Six-foot-8 center Tyler Goslinga (15 points, eight rebounds) was limited to just four points in the second half, but RC managed to stay within striking distance with key perimeter shots coming from Daniel Van de Pol, Steve Vander Molen and Vos.
Vos hit back-to-back 3’s and gave the Knights their last lead at 61-59 with 1:30 left. He accounted for RC’s only points in overtime with another 3 in overtime and converted six of the team’s 10 from long range, finishing with 20 points and eight boards. The six 3-pointers are a new section Division V record.
“We continued to fight back (and) they didn’t panic,” coach Vander Molen said. “Every time Victory seemed to extend the lead on us we fought back. I was really proud of their effort in that sense.”
Van de Pol finished with 12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for RC. Steve Vander Molen was sensational in the second half, when he scored 12 of his 17 points for a season high.
Johnny Coburn and Brad Hoffelt contributed 12 points apiece for Victory.
“We beat them earlier in the year (64-43 in non-league play) but we knew they were a different team,” Steve Vander Molen said. “Everybody gave it the best effort they had but sometimes they just don’t go your way.”
Ripon Christian’s season will continue despite the loss. The Knights will begin the California Interscholastic Federation Regional Championships (NorCals) Tuesday on the road against an opponent yet to be determined.
The CIF will reveal the state tournament brackets Sunday evening on www.cifstate.org.