Rio looked to build off of their huge upset win over Rocklin last week in the sections semi-final against the heavily-favored St. Mary’s Rams. Despite the week long break, the Raider student section came out in full force.
A common trend this year with Rio was their sloppy play early, and Wednesday was no exception. This habit matched with the Ram’s tendency to score often from fast breaks did not create a favorable matchup for the home team.
Despite this, midway through the first quarter, St. Mary’s appeared unable to generate their usual up-tempo paced offense. They turned the ball over many times thanks to tough Rio defense.
It took the Raiders around four minutes to get points on the board, finally coming off of junior Denzel Harris’ slick pass to senior center Jonah Roth for an easy bucket. Later, Roth would strike again, hitting two of two free throws off of a foul, bringing the score to 8-6 in favor of St. Mary’s.
The Rams’ star senior forward Bryce Johnson played a massive role in keeping his team in the lead. Late in the first, he used his six foot seven, 200 lb frame to power his way into the paint, forcing a Raider timeout.
With just seconds left on the clock in the first, Johnson fought past nearly every Rio defender to make a layup to end the first period. The score stood at 14-6 St. Mary’s.
The Rams continued their run into the second with senior guard Carson Simi hitting on a reverse layup to make it a 6-0 run. After these frustrating possessions, the Raiders clearly had enough with Roth and junior Alex Vryonis making back-to-back layups.
The back-and-forth continued when Johnson slammed home a dunk on a fast break, which was answered by Roth who nailed a three.
The quickness by St. Mary’s on defense was causing Rio to be incredibly indecisive on offense. This led to turnovers, and a slow next few minutes of the game with both teams’ offenses stalling.
Minutes later, Rio senior Cole Ramazzini used a slick spin move to create an easy bucket. Vryonis followed that up with a mid-range jumpshot, and finally Roth finished the run with a post move, making an easy layup.
The last possession of the half went to St. Mary’s, and Johnson charged directly for the hoop. He was rejected by Roth, and they had an inbound with 0.3 left on the clock.
When the inbound came, Johnson caught it and went up for another layup. The play clearly lasted for more that a second, however the clock did not start, allowing for him to draw a foul.
The officials talked about the play for only a few seconds before upholding the call. The inconsistency of the refereeing throughout the game did not favor either side, but the selectiveness of the calls created a frustration from both teams. Headed into the half, the board showed 22-19 St. Mary’s.
In the second half, the Rams turned on their normal, fast style of play that revolved around quick defense and transition offense. They went on a 13-3 run to start the third, and no-calls by officials prevented this lead from growing.
An opportunity presented itself to Rio late in the third when Johnson was forced off the court with an open cut on his elbow. This left the paint wide open for the Raider offense.
While Rio played significantly better against their weakened opponent, Johnson entered the game only minutes later. The third ended on a Harris three, cutting the lead to just 11.
The Raiders made the contest interesting to open the final period of regulation, cutting the lead to 9 on a layup by Harris.
Following that, a jump ball was called, and the ball clearly should have gone to Rio. However, the officials ruled it to be St. Mary’s possession, and every person in the gym who was supporting the Raiders went crazy.
Coach Jones visibly lost his mind, screaming at the referees to overrule the call. After mulling over the decision for what felt like hours, they decided to keep the decision on the court.
On the very next possession, there was another jump ball, this time looking as if the Rams should have received the ball. Again, the officials made a bad call, giving it to Rio.
After more back-and-forth, St. Mary’s finally sealed the game with senior guard Jamar Marshall stealing a bad pass and throwing down a slam on the other end. Minutes later, Rio’s season came to an end, with the final score at 59-44.
Rio’s season was over after the team had exceeded all expectations in the playoffs as underdogs in all three of their games. The Rams would go on to beat Grant in the section championship two days later at Golden 1, 59-58.