A Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Final Four berth was at stake on Thursday night in San Andreas.
REDSKIN STARTING GUARD R.B. Ruhl, 3, goes hard to the hoop on Thursday night at Mike Flock Gym. Ruhl and her teammates prevailed over Liberty Ranch and will play in the Final Four on Wednesday at Tokay High School. AMY ALONZO ROZAK/UNION DEMOCRAT
There was 5:30 left to play and No. 1 seed Calaveras was ahead of No. 8 Liberty Ranch by the score of 31-27.
Underneath the Liberty Ranch goal, Hawks center Annie Wipfli dove out of bounds for a loose ball and flung it back in. That basketball fell directly into the hands of Redskins forward Maddie Cox — who just happened to be standing a foot from the tin.
“I sure took that one as a gift,” said Cox, who easily canned the bunny.
“Sometimes you have to get a little lucky in this game,” said Redskins head coach Mike Lewis. “And after Maddie’s basket right there, I was thinking, ‘Maybe things will start going our way here.’ ”
And did they ever.
With 4:54 to play, Cox banked home a 14-footer and Calaveras held a 35-27 lead.
Then Liberty’s 5-foot-7 highly-touted guard Selina Moore quickly dribbled upcourt and saw one defender in the lane.
That defender was Redskin 5-foot-3 guard R.B. Ruhl.
“I saw her coming with that ball,” said Ruhl, “and I was thinking, ‘OK! I’ll take this one for the team.’ ”
Ruhl’s feet were firmly planted four feet in front of the rim.
Moore kept her dribble and blasted forward.
Ruhl didn’t flinch, stood her ground, allowed Moore to run her over and heard a whistle.
“I was laying down there thinking, ‘I sure hope I get this call,’ ” said Ruhl.
She did. It was an easy call. Nobody on Liberty’s bench even bothered challenging the charging call.
“R.B. is small and to take a charge like that was incredible,” said Cox.
“That was one huge play by R.B.,” said Lewis. “It was so big for us.”
“After R.B. took that charge,” said Redskin forward Bridgette McGinness, “I felt the momentum coming back to us. We needed to keep things going.”
And then it was McGinness who immediately ensured that things indeed kept going.
With Redskin star point guard Nikki Gleason forced to take a quick breather due to foul trouble — and Liberty employing full-court pressure — it was McGinness, a 5-9 forward, who took care of the rock.
She dribbled past two defenders, then drew some added attention and tossed cross-court over to guard Savannah Duncan — who was standing in 3-point land.
Duncan made a clean grab and let it fly ...
“They were sagging off me and I knew I was open and then Bridgette made a really good play and good pass,” said Duncan. “That’s one of those shots that feels good the instant you shoot it.”
There was 4:30 left to play and Calaveras led by 11.
So within a 60-second span, a four-point Redskin lead had stretched to 11.
“That one minute of play right there did make me relax a little,” said Lewis. “I didn’t stop coaching. But I was thinking, ‘Things are really going our way now.’ ”
“Their team didn’t completely give up at that point,” said Duncan, “but you could see them putting their heads down more. Having them down double-digits made a big difference.”
Then, one minute after Duncan’s clutch trey, with Calaveras up 39-30, Ruhl and forward Brianna McGinness teamed up on a jaw-dropping, did-you-see-that play — which sealed the Redskins’ Final Four berth.
While being pressured, Ruhl was dribbling close to the Redskins bench, 35-feet away from Liberty’s bucket. Brianna McGinness was positioned at the baseline, behind the arc.
“I saw R.B. with the ball,” said Brianna, “and I thought, ‘I’m going to the hoop.’ I just took off as fast as I could.”
Soon enough, Brianna McGinness was within two feet of the rim. Yes, perfect position for a layup.
But Ruhl still was 35-feet away and there were three defenders between her and McGinness.
“I honestly don’t even know what I was thinking,” said Ruhl. “I just threw it to Brianna and hoped it would get through.”
Said Lewis, “I was thinking, ‘Is that gonna get through? There’s no way that ball will get there!’ There were opponents’ hands all over the place. There were three defenders with a shot at that ball. But once Brianna had it, I thought, ‘OK, now I know the luck is on our side.’ ”
“R.B. had thrown it so fast and so hard that it still got to me after being tipped off of some defender’s fingers,” said Brianna McGinness. “I grab it, hit the layup and I was thinking, ‘Wow, we just completed this play?’ It was all so intense and it was a crazy pass — but it worked. After that, I was thinking that we’ve got all the momentum now, we’re back to being ourselves again.”
“That was such a scary pass that I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, R.B.,’ ” said Bridgette McGinness. “But it worked.”
“Hey,” said Lewis, “it was one big, big play.”
From there, Calaveras finished the contest on a 12-5 run, walked off its court 53-35 victors and, for the second year in a row, earned a Final Four berth.
The Redskins (27-3) will face No. 4 seed Bear River (21-8) on Wednesday at Tokay High School. A win there and Calaveras will play for the section title at Power Balance Pavilion (still better known as “Arco”) on March 3. Last season, Calaveras was defeated in the section championship by Modesto Christian.
“To get to the Final Four two years in a row is incredible,” said Duncan, who canned 9-of-10 free throws, drained three treys and scored a game-high 18 points on Thursday.
Liberty had led 8-6 after one quarter. Midway through the second frame, Calaveras went on a 10-1 run — keyed by two Gleason driving scores and a Brianna McGinness O-board putback — and led 21-16 at halftime. Calaveras led 28-25 heading into the final frame. “We obviously played better in the second half tonight,” said Gleason, who scored nine points total and dished three assists. “We always come out at halftime and turn on the switch. I don’t know what it is. Our coaches don’t really yell at us all that much at the break. We just come out ready to play every second half.”
For Calaveras, Courtney Tarbat scored two points and Ruhl six. Cox scored 10 points, grabbed four boards and had a game-high three steals.
Bridgette McGinness dished three assists and scored two points. Brianna McGinness had a game-high 11 rebounds and scored six points.
“It’s great getting to the Final Four two years in a row and that we’re building a dynasty here,” said Gleason. “Kids usually only get to dream about playing at Arco. We got to play there last year and now we’ve got another chance to get back there and play. It’s all pretty awesome.”
“The Final Four is a great accomplishment,” said Lewis. “Let’s face it: It’s a big goal. When you’re the No. 1 seed, there’s a lot more pressure to get there and I felt it. Now that we’re going to Tokay, I can take a deep breath. I’ll relax.”
With a laugh, Lewis added. “That is I’ll relax until I get the film of our next opponent.”
Oh, by the way, Ruhl wasn’t hurt when she took her gutsy charge on Moore.
“It doesn’t hurt,” said Ruhl. “You know why it doesn’t hurt? Because we won. Last year was super exciting. And now we’re back in the Final Four. To do it again is amazing. Amazing.”