GALT — Jayden Baroni isn’t going to let an injury keep him from competing on the court.
The 6-foot-2, 165-pound forward on the Liberty Ranch High boys basketball player team displayed his grit against the Venture Academy High squad in Tuesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff game at The Hawks Nest. That grit helped Liberty Ranch, the top seed, to a 94-49 win over No. 17 Venture Academy, the Stockton school that beat No. 16 Dixon 76-59 in a play-in game at Dixon on Monday.
Next for Liberty Ranch (27-2) is No. 8 Bear River of Lake of the Pines, which knocked off No. 9 Calaveras 66-39. Liberty Ranch and Bear River have not faced each other in pre-season. The winner of that game will play the No. 4 Mountain House-No. 5 Ripon game in one of the semifinal round games next Wednesday.
Baroni, a three-year starter, knocked down two 3-pointers in the first quarter for the Hawks, who jumped out to a 13-2 lead. Those were some of his five 3-pointers for the night.
“The main thing tonight is we had to play as a team,” said Baroni of the Hawks, who lost to Bradshaw Christian in the Sierra Valley Conference finale last week but still won their fourth straight title. “We had to come together. If we want to win the sections, we have to play all together as a team.”
Baroni, who finished with 21 points, wore a wrist glove on his left hand that covered up the ring and pinkie fingers in Tuesday’s game. Baroni sat out the last two conference games because of re-injuring it against Rosemont in a home game on Jan. 29. He said he suffered the injury at the start of the season.
“He probably wants it more than anybody on the team,” said Liberty Ranch coach Josh Williams of Baroni. “Tonight was just one game at a time, and he led the way with his attitude and his grit.”
The Hawks’ full-court press led to many Venture Academy (16-10) turnovers near its own basket, plus half-court and even after Liberty Ranch missed some of its shots inside the paint. That led to a 19-6 score with just over three minutes remaining in the quarter.
Venture Academy forward Jaylen Lee kept his Mustangs scored 10 of his 17 first half points in the first quarter, and finished with 26 points. Guard Ian Malagon, a sophomore who played on Elliot Christian High squad last winter, hit two 3-pointers and finished with six points. Patrick Haynes Jr. had nine points in the playoff contest.
But the Hawks ended the quarter with a 31-18 lead. In the second, Liberty Ranch continued to full-court press that led to Mustang turnovers. That led to more points from Baroni, guard Isaac Padilla (also 26 points), guard Jaime Gonzalez and sophomore guard Branson McLelland, who was moved up from the school’s junior varsity team.
Liberty Ranch led 52-27 at halftime. After three quarters, the Hawks flew to a 76-43 advantage. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Baroni hit his final 3-pointer that pushed the score to an 84-43 advantage and a running clock, which is used when a high school boys and girls basketball game has a 40-point difference after three quarters.
Behind Padilla and Baroni in scoring were Gonzalez with 15 points, Jalen Patterson and Josh Seiler nine each, McLelland six, and Gabriel Nino and Joseph Lopez four each.
Contact Mike Bush at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.