GALT — Golden 1.
Liberty Ranch High boys basketball fans echoed those two words inside The Hawks Nest toward the end of the fourth quarter. That is because top-seed Liberty Ranch knocked off No. 4 Ripon 72-51 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal game on Wednesday.
Now the center stage is set for Liberty Ranch (29-2). The Hawks will play No. 2 seed Sonora (27-4), which beat No. 3 West Campus of Sacramento 93-87 in overtime also on Wednesday. Liberty Ranch and Sonora will tip-off at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday at 4 p.m.
Before Wednesday’s semifinal games, Liberty Ranch, along with Sonora, Ripon and West Campus (23-8) earned berths in the CIF NorCal playoffs. According to Will DeBoard, who is the Sac-Joaquin Section assistant commissioner, the CIF State plans to release brackets for both boys and girls basketball teams on Sunday.
Liberty Ranch started the first quarter with uncharacteristic play; missed lay-up shots and three turnovers. The turnovers — a total of nine in the game — helped Ripon (19-12) to a short-lived 7-2 lead.
But Hawk guards Jalen Patterson and Isaac Padilla made a combined 6 of 6 free throws. Padilla’s shots gave Liberty Ranch the lead at 13-11 with 1:50 on the clock. Liberty Ranch made 25 of 35 in the game.
“As you know, free throws win games,” Padilla said. “I thought we did a good job.”
Ripon center Vincent Olmo — listed on the team’s roster at 6-foot-8 and 250-pounds — dominated the boards that kept Liberty Ranch from any chance of second and third shots. Olom had five rebounds in the opening quarter, and 13 in the first half. That helped the Indians move the ball around the base line that would either get back into the hands of Olom or one of his teammates.
A 3-pointer from Padilla (24 points), and two free throws made by Patterson (game-high 25 points), Liberty Ranch built a 26-13 lead halfway through the quarter. Ripon, which had eight turnovers in the game, was 10 of 15.
“We knew if we could speed up the game he would get tired,” said Liberty Ranch coach Josh Williams of Olom. “Beyond him, we knew that their shooters were going to miss shots if we sped up the game. We know we can get to the line. Sometimes that demoralizes teams, can get us into a rhythm, different things happen when we attack. One of the keys this post-season is not to settle for the 3-ball.”
Liberty Ranch guard Josh Seiler, along with forward Jayden Baroni, continued their team’s attack on the board. The Hawks flew to the glass for 13 rebounds in the quarter and 33 in the game. That helped Liberty Ranch built a 35-22 halftime lead.
Once in the third quarter, Ripon cut into Liberty Ranch’s double-digit lead. Ripon guard Nico Ilardi, after grabbing an offensive rebound, was fouled on a block. He made two free throws to make it 47-38 with 3:57 in the quarter.
At 3:24, Patterson was fouled while driving toward the Hawks’ basket at the east end of the gym. That led making one of two free throws for a 48-38 score. After an Indian offensive possession led to a missed shot, Patterson bumped the Hawks’ lead to 50-38 on a basket. Liberty Ranch and Ripon finished the quarter with an even 6-6 run, but the Hawks led 56-44.
“I think we were kind of overly excited early and we missed shots,” Williams said. “Ultimately we settled down and made them.”
A 10-6 run, thanks to two Ripon turnovers and one of its baskets on a put back from Padilla, gave Liberty Ranch a 68-50 lead with 3:41 left in the game. A minute later, both Williams and Ripon coach Justin Graham substituted freely.
After the game, Liberty Ranch players celebrated their return to the section title game since the 2014-15 season with family, friends, classmates and the Goblin Student Section, the school’s student rooting section that was established earlier this decade.
Then Williams talked about his Hawks’ journey back to the title game. This is the Hawks’ third trip to the section finals since Galt’s second high school opened its doors in 2009.
“We set out a goal at the beginning of the year to win a section championship,” Williams said. “Our plan is to win the game.”
Padilla added, “It feels good.”
This was the second meeting this season between Liberty Ranch and Ripon. At the Indians’ gym on Dec. 4, 2018, the Hawks posted a 62-60 win in a pre-season meeting.
Behind Patterson and Padilla in scoring for the Hawks were Baroni with eight points, guard Jaime Gonzalez six, Seiler four, guards Ahmari Douglas and Branson McLelland two each and center Austin Davis one.
Ripon had three players who scored in double-digits; guard Baz Cheema had a team-high 15 points and Ilardi and Olmo had 11 each.
Contact Mike Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.