The Raiders built on the momentum of a come-from-behind win over rival El Camino last week to clinch a playoff spot by beating first-round opponent River Valley at home Wednesday night.
An immediate addition the Raiders obviously made to their offense was the amount of threes they shot. Most notably, senior Cole Ramazzini connected on multiple triples through the game, going on to be one of the main contributors for the offense.
“All of them focused on whoever had the ball,” Ramazzini said. “I was able to move around and find open spaces.”
When senior center Jonah Roth went out in the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury, Rio needed to find a way to stay strong in the rebounding department. Junior Mitchell Dixon filled this void, pulling down countless rebounds throughout play.
“We just knew we had to step up our rebounding with Jonah out,” Ramazzini said. “Credit to Mitchell Dixon for leading us in that area.”
At half, the two teams were evenly matched, however that changed with the emergence of the third period. Rio began scoring in bunches, pulling away from River Valley.
As the final minutes came, Rio head coach Chris Jones substituted in the second string to avoid any unnecessary injuries. When the final buzzer sounded, Rio advanced to the second round, beating River Valley 65-52.
Although the Raiders won handily, the team had to overcome a difficult hurdle to make the postseason.
After suffering one of their worst losses of the season just a few weeks ago to the same El Camino team, Rio looked to bounce back on Senior Night Tuesday. The seven Rio seniors were honored pregame, along with senior cheerleaders.
Rio was immediately at a disadvantage with standout Roth inactive for the game. “They were down their big man, we were down our big man so our main focus was to rebound and box out their second biggest player, said senior Jake Paxton.
Despite this, the Raiders started the game hot, with Dixon immediately getting open in the paint off the tip for an easy two points. Rio played aggressive and strong defense early, which contributed to their 14-0 run to open the first period.
After an El Camino timeout, the Eagles’ offense awoke, drawing within five points. The first closed with some sloppy play in the final minute, seeing both teams commit numerous turnovers.
Even with the Raiders’ strong start, El Camino answered back going on a nearly identical 14-0 run to open the second. The charge was lead by senior Michel Robinson, who hustled into transition before Rio’s defense could get back.
Rio did keep it close, getting a three-point play from Dixon. This was immediately answered by Robinson, who drilled a triple to close the half, putting Rio behind 32-27.
Early in the third period, Robinson took over the game. He started by swatting away a potential layup from Dixon, giving his team a fast-break opportunity.
When on offense, the Eagles let Robinson hold the ball and make plays himself, while the Raiders struggled to figure out how to contain him.
However, Rio’s student section rallied after senior Ryan Nixon flushed home a triple. The third quarter would end with both teams even at 44.
All the back and forth lead to the climactic fourth quarter. The sloppy play that had plagued the teams throughout suddenly disappeared.
Ramazzini opened the quarter with an electrifying three, which was answered by another Robinson fast-break score. At this point, Rio junior Alex Vryonis took charge, starting with a layup beating a double-team in the low post.
El Camino senior guard Jaquawn Henderson answered, drawing fouls on two straight possessions. He made a game-high 6 for 6 free throws in the quarter.
Coming back from this, Paxton connected on a corner three. On the next possession, he drained another three-point jumper from 26 feet with the shot clock winding down.
The Raiders lead 61-56 with 49 seconds left in regulation, and clamped down on defense, shutting down Robinson and forcing him into tough shots. As time wound down, El Camino continued to foul the opposition. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Rio prevailed with clutch free throw shooting from Dixon who went 5 for 6 in crunch time.
As the final horn sounded, Rio stood tall, winning 67-60.
“It was a huge win, not only for senior night, but for our playoff seeding too,” Paxton said. “To get revenge on EC was pretty cool on our senior night.”