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Section Champions Baseball Cougars Take Sac-Joaquin Crown
The first batter of the game for Summerville ripped a single and stole second base ... but that was about as much offense as the Bears could muster, as Escalon easily handled their opponent to bring home the Sac-Joaquin Section blue banner for a second straight year.

Behind the masterful pitching performance of junior Matt Valencia, the Cougars bounced Summerville 10-0 in a fine-inning game at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi on Monday afternoon, senior James Hill scoring the winning run on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth.

Repeating as Division V champions was sweet, admitted head coach Greg Largent, because everybody was after the Cougars this year.

"Last year was pretty special," Largent said, as the team rallied around then-senior pitcher Justin Martinez, who lost his dad - a huge Cougar supporter - to a heart attack unexpectedly during the season. The team dedicated the year to Chris Martinez and the bulk of the team carries the 'CM' patch on their caps still today.

"This one was harder," said Largent, with everyone wanting the chance to knock down the reigning champs. "It's pretty sweet."

Escalon was the home team so Summerville got the first chance to get a run on the board.

The game was about an hour later getting started - its 3 p.m. start time pushed back because umpires arrived late for the first game of the day at Zupo Field earlier - but the Cougars made up for it with a fast paced dismantling of the overpowered Bears squad.

After firing in a first pitch strike, Valencia saw the Summerville leadoff hitter stroke a single and later steal second. After that, a bunt foul on a third strike got the first out, following by a pitcher to first put out and a strikeout of the clean up hitter by Valencia with the runner on third.

Escalon got on the board in the bottom of the first, with Josh Miguel reaching on the first of what would be several Summerville errors on the day. Gino Franceschetti moved him to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt, Patrick Mulry reached on an error on the center fielder, dropping the ball, putting runners at first and second. Miguel was not able to advance on the fly ball. A pick off attempt of Mulry on first hit him and bounced away, allowing Miguel to take third. Aaron Pangilinan then drove in the first run of the game on a long fly out to left center.

Escalon added another run in the second. Robbie Steves worked out a walk, catcher Trey Balber put down the sacrifice bunt to move Steves to second. After the second out, Hill sent a shot through the middle, ripping the single through the infield and allowing Steves to score to make it 2-0.

"I wanted to play for an early lead, we played some small ball," said Largent. "That put the pressure on them and we exploited every mistake they made."

Another three and out for Summerville followed and the Cougars plated three runs in the third, with an RBI double from Valencia, scoring Mulry, who reached on a two base error. Steves drilled an RBI single, scoring Aaron Pangilinan, who had been hit by a pitch, and then drew several throws while leading off first. One throw got away and Valencia, on third, trotted home to make it 5-0 Escalon.

Franceschetti tracked down a sky high pop up in the top of the fourth on a nice play, ranging into short right field and battling the late afternoon sun to pull in the ball.

Miguel beat out a bunt in the bottom of the fourth and stole second, scoring on Franceschetti's RBI single to center to make it 6-0. Pangilinan singled, Valencia sent a liner down the first base line, good for an RBI double, Franceschetti crossing the plate to make it 7-0, and Steves fought off a two-strike pitch to drill a two-RBI single to left field, scoring Pangilinan and Valencia to make it 9-0.

In the top of the fifth, Valencia got a strikeout of the first hitter, then put one on base by hitting him with a pitch. It was the Bears first base runner since the first inning and only their second of the entire day. A shortstop to second ground out and another strikeout ended the minor Summerville threat.

With a new pitcher taking the mound for Summerville in the bottom of the fifth, all Escalon had to do was get one run home to take the win on the 10-run rule.

Hill worked out a walk and Miguel sent a double down the left field line. With runners at second and third, Franceschetti worked the count to 3-2 and ball four bounced away from the catcher, Hill breaking for the plate and sliding in with the winning run.

"It was great, nothing better than that," Hill said of the feeling of scoring the Section championship winning run. "I knew, I saw the ball getting past the catcher and I knew I was going, no matter what."

Valencia, who notched seven strikeouts and allowed one hit, needed just 63 pitches to become a Section champion for the second straight year.

"I was very relaxed," Valencia said, admitting that getting a shutout was his goal going in. "It feels great ... I can't wait 'til next year."

Senior Brandon Shaw couldn't say enough about the team as a whole.

"These guys are just amazing ... they're all clutch. We don't flinch. There's no nerves out there, we just do what we've got to do."

Added fellow senior Aaron Pangilinan, "It was a nice win, a good way to end our senior year."

Catcher Balber, a junior who will be back next year, said the pitching staff has been lights out all season.

"When you have pitchers like we do, I just put down a sign, I know it'll be a strike," he said. "Matty threw a great game."

Escalon had 10 runs on nine hits, while Summerville had just one hit and no runs.

"Everybody did great, I'm happy for the seniors," Largent said of his trio of graduates, who helped the team to a 28-3 overall mark this year.

With back-to-back Section titles, Largent said the bulls-eye will be that much bigger next season.

"The pressure's on again," he agreed. "But we're not lowering the bar."