Forest Lake boys stun Sierra Christian, earn berth in state playoffs

By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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GALT ” Three months ago, there was quiet confidence. On Tuesday, that faith was replaced by convincing slam dunks. The No. 4-seeded Forest Lake Christian School boys basketball team beat top-seeded Sierra Christian 79-61 in the Sac-Joaquin Division V semifinals at Galt High School to advance to Friday's title game at ARCO Arena. We were just prepared for this team, said senior point guard Austin Maynard, who scored 15 points on a sore ankle he sprained in Friday's 80-52 victory over Faith Christian. We've been looking forward to it since the start of the season. We were all just ready to come out and play as hard as we possibly could to get to ARCO. This was our big one that we wanted to win. The upset was the Falcons' eighth consecutive victory, three weeks after they won the first Central Valley Christian League title in school history. It also clinched a spot in the state playoffs for Forest Lake. It's huge, FLC head coach Dave Thomas said. All year long I was very cautious. I said, ˜Hey, let's get the first league title for this school.' At the beginning of the year, I thought we had a chance. There was quiet confidence. I'm very proud of the players' efforts. The Lord has allowed us success this year, and I'm just thankful for that. Andrew Ritchart's dunk seven seconds after tip-off set the tone. The Falcons (21-9) trailed by a basket early before opening up a 24-17 lead after one quarter and extending their advantage to 45-31 at halftime. We knew they played pretty tight defense so we could get them on those backdoor cuts, said 6-foot-6 sophomore Josh Ritchart, who scored a team-high 22 points. It was just a matter of executing, and we did that. We knew we had the size advantage so we wanted to pound it inside early. We used the inside game to get some open outside shots and we hit those. The Northern Pacific League champion Bears (18-4), who played with six athletes on the roster all season, cut the deficit to 56-49 on a pair of Caleb Murray free throws early in the fourth quarter but never came closer. Murray scored a game-high 23 for Sierra Christian. We just played really hard defense as a team, Maynard said. We've been taking it one game at a time, but in the back of our minds we were always thinking about Arco. It's always one step at a time. We hope to take it and get something for our area. Ben Sparling scored 17 and Andrew Ritchart added 14 points. Forest Lake will face the winner of the game between second seed Brookside Christian and No. 3 Big Valley Christian in Friday's championship game. The seniors know these are their last games, Josh Ritchart said. We played our hearts out for them so we could get them to Arco. We're happy to get there, and that's number one, but now we're going to try to win it. We know we can do it.