Growing seemingly by the day, the upstart high school boys basketball program from the Sac-Joaquin Section continues to ascend to new heights, and Josh Williams, its first-year coach, suggests that fans buckle up because there's more to come.
Liberty Ranch continued to play as a program beyond its years Wednesday night, holding off Half Moon Bay 55-52 in a Northern California Regional Division IV playoff game in Galt.
While Half Moon Bay has been sprouting world-record pumpkins and producing good high school sports teams as long as anyone can remember, Liberty Ranch is new to all of this. Four years ago, the sparkling gym and campus were erected amid acres of fields, and it hasn't taken the Hawks long to generate city pride.
Its NorCal victory ensures Liberty Ranch a season longer than any high school team in town history. The 1998 Galt High team led by Bee All-Metro bruiser Philip Ricci lost in a NorCal opener. Ricci was the town's all-time leading scorer until Liberty Ranch's Michael Meserole eclipsed him this season.
The senior guard scored 19 points to lead the seventh-seeded Hawks (23-9), but he's hardly a one-man show, and it took the efforts of all of his teammates to compete with the 10th-seeded Cougars (22-8) of the Central Coast Section.
DeAndre Stallings had 11 points, and steady teammates Matt Thomas, Garrison King-Halsey, Zack Justice, Nick Friend, Chris Childs and Matt Hagen all contributed, be it with passes, rebounds or sheer effort.
An ecstatic Williams made his postgame speech brief and to the point, saying, "This is exactly why I signed up for this, to coach a group of winners like you. Very, very, very proud of you."
Williams took over a program that won four games in the program's initial varsity season two years ago, six games last season and can't even comprehend the old days now. The Hawks didn't taste a winning streak the previous two seasons and haven't had a losing streak this season.
"I knew I had a team that wanted to compete," Williams said, his voice shot. "We've put a stamp here."
Half Moon Bay trotted out three players 6-foot-6 or taller and towered over the Hawks. Liberty Ranch countered with hustle and ball movement.
Meserole put his team up for good at 53-50 with a three-pointer with 2:01 to go. Stallings hit a free throw for a 54-52 lead with 17.1 seconds left, Childs grabbed a missed Cougars shot with 2.7 to go and made a free throw, and Thomas broke up a last-play inbound pass to seal it.
"We've got a lot of guys," Meserole said. "We've really evolved. And we have a great coach in Williams. He's like a kid, like us, and we have (assistant coach) Gary Lewis who is mellow and gives us great balance."
Liberty Ranch plays at second-seeded Riordan of San Francisco on Saturday.
"They may not have every heard of us? What is Galt? Is that a joke?," Williams said. "We're here. Welcome to 'The Ranch.' We hope to go down there and shock them."
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_Joe D.