The fun begins tonight for Ripon High’s boys basketball team.
The Indians are one of two remaining undefeated teams through two games in the Trans Valley League, and they take on three-time reigning champion Modesto Christian at home. Next is a short jaunt to in-town rival Ripon Christian Friday, then visiting Escalon on Feb. 22.
With only 10 games on the TVL schedule, every step Ripon (2-0, 10-9 overall) takes in its sprint toward a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth, and possibly its first conference championship since winning three straight from 2004-06, is key.
The Indians aim to make the playoffs after missing out twice in the last three seasons despite producing .500-or-better records in league. What hurt them, and could hurt them again this year, was a tough non-league schedule that includes top-caliber tournament such as the Granada Tournament in Livermore and the Modesto Holiday Hoops Classic.
“For us it’s like football season now, every game counts,” Ripon coach Rod Wright said. “I don’t think a .500 record in league will do it for us.”
Ripon’s first hurdle in the opening week of TVL was overcoming health issues. Its top two players, guard Matt Ratto (19.1 ppg) and post Kody Wengel (9.6 ppg), were both sick but still produced in 54-38 and 60-50 wins over Hughson and Riverbank, respectively.
“We’ve over the flu now, and I think we’ll be at 100 percent by the RC game,” Wright said.
Ripon gets its stiffest test tonight in Modesto Christian, which is still the team to beat despite the graduation loss of 6-foot-8 forward Reeves Nelson, now at UCLA.
The Crusaders are 8-8 overall, considered a down year compared to seasons past, with no individual star to carry the load, but they have picked up where they left off in the TVL, crushing improved Escalon 85-61 and Hughson 83-46 to tip off conference action.
Modesto Christian, led by 6-foot-4 forward Anthony Pratt (10.8 ppg), plays a high-tempo game feeding off its full-court press, and any one of its top eight players can lead the team in scoring on a given night.
Ripon prepared for that style of play in non-league. Though the Indians are no offensive juggernaut, Wright said his team is getting better at handling the pressure of playing at that pace. Ripon proved it’s capable of beating a top team in the MC Tournament, where it stunned Fremont of Los Angeles, 70-64. The Pathfinders (14-5) are ranked seventh overall in the Los Angeles Section according to MaxPreps.com.
“I think we’re battle tested,” Wright said. “If we play good defense, we don’t turn the ball over and we box out, I think we have a good chance against MC.
“This could be the year they lose one in league, but someone needs to play a near perfect game and they have to play a sub-par game. They may not have that Division-I all-star type of player, but they’re still tall and very athletic.”
Ripon Christian (1-1, 14-3) plays host to 2-14 Hughson tonight but is coming off a disappointing loss to Escalon (1-1, 12-7).
Ripon Christian’s height bothered Ripon in a 56-50 upset last year, and it was one of the league losses that killed the Indians’ playoff hopes. Tyler Goslinga, a 6-8 center, averages 21.8 points and 11.2 rebounds for RC.
Escalon is led by 6-4 posts Vincent Aufermaur and Tyler Schuurman, and sophomore guards Gino Franceschetti and Patrick Mulry. Like MC, Escalon relies on balanced scoring and likes to press, whereas Ripon Christian prefers to work its inside-out game in halfcourt sets.
“No matter what happens (tonight against Modesto Christian) we can’t have a letdown against RC either way,” Wright said. “You’ll never know what’s going to happen in those rivalry games, and we’ll be fighting with Escalon to get in the playoffs. This week is huge.”