LATHROP — Trailing Lathrop by a point and with no timeouts left, Weston Ranch head coach Chris Teevan put all his chips on baby-faced Jaelen Ragsdale.
“The direction of the program is on his shoulders,” Teevan said of his sophomore sensation. “And he just came through.”
Ragsdale never gave up the ball after setting up the Cougars’ final possession with a defensive rebound in Thursday’s barnburner. He knifed his way through the middle of the Lathrop defense and floated in a short-range attempt with four seconds remaining.
Nilo Yuson’s desperation 3-pointer from midcourt was well off the mark, and the youthful Cougars celebrated their biggest win of the year, 63-62.
“I saw the gap there,” Ragsdale said. “They were leaving that open for me all game but I was looking for other people to get shots. That time I just attacked. I had full confidence in myself. I know I can make my floater on a consistent basis.”
Looks, as they say, can be deceiving. The 5-foot-8 Ragsdale appears even younger than his age but displays the moxie and poise of a veteran who is no stranger to pressure situations. His game-winning shot gave him high-point honors with 17 to go with four assists.
Ragsdale isn’t even the youngest point guard on the team. That distinction goes to freshman Tre Simmons, called up from the lower levels earlier in the week. He scored 11 of his 12 points in the first half while canning three 3s.
Sophomore Jazz Swanson added eight points, while senior Derek Gordon — another addition for Weston Ranch (2-2, 6-10) this week — contributed seven points, six rebounds and four steals.
To beat the talented, taller and senior-laden Spartans (2-2 Valley Oak League, 9-7 overall) at their house was a big statement from a squad that ended the game with three sophomores, a freshman and a senior who was playing just his second-ever varsity basketball contest.
“We’re not scared of nobody,” Ragsdale said. “We just proved that age doesn’t mean anything.”
The Cougars did show their age at times, and it was most prevalent early in the fourth quarter when Lathrop mounted its biggest run.
Weston Ranch never trailed through three quarters and was up 53-44 to start the fourth. Lathrop, led by point guard Nilo Yuson and Isaiah Ellis opened with an 8-0 to close to within one and took its first lead at 57-56 with 3:27 to go on Yuson’s coast-to-coast layup.
Ragsdale answered with his second 3-pointer of the period. Nicholaus Obazuaye (14 points, seven rebounds) pushed Lathrop ahead for the last time with 1:39 left.
“Too little, too late,” as Lathrop coach Nathan McGrath said of his squad’s late surge.
Yuson and Ellis each had 16 points to lead the Spartans. Eric Spencer chipped in eight points and 12 rebounds.
“Other teams seem to want it more than us,” McGrath said. “I think we’ve won one first quarter all year. We come out so flat thinking that we’re better than the other team before we even play. That’s the disappointing thing; it takes getting punched in the mouth to finally respond.
“Give Weston Ranch all the credit in the world, they came out fired up and took it to us.”
Lathrop also had trouble getting many of its point-blank shots to fall and was 9 of 22 on free throws.
It’s a pivotal week for both teams, which continues on Saturday at Sonora for Weston Ranch. The Cougars are looking to go 3-0 this week after beating Oakdale 54-43 on Tuesday for their first win in a month.
“It felt more like two years,” Teevan said of the seven-game losing streak.
Lathrop started VOL play 2-0 but dropped both of its games this week. The Spartans head to Oakdale next Tuesday before visiting first-place Sierra.
“Every team in this league can beat you,” McGrath said. “If you don’t come out ready to play this is what happens. Fortunately it’s still early, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier.”
Weston Ranch 49,
Pedro Maldonado beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer as the Cougars escaped with a dramatic victory.
Charles Odeze paced Weston Ranch with 17 points and 12 boards. Parminder Singh had 10 points for Lathrop.
Weston Ranch 49,
Chedrick Ordonez fired 21 points for Weston Ranch, which outscored the host Spartans 21-8 in the second quarter and didn’t look back.
Lathrop was spearheaded by Anthony Blase’s 12 points.