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Champion Cougars Look For Diamond Magic
Two seniors come back as four-year varsity players for Escalon, with two more back for a third year, leading the baseball team as they look to return to the form that earned them league, section and state titles a year ago.

The Cougars took the Trans-Valley League title and went on to claim Section honors, ultimately selected as the State Champions.

Head coach Greg Largent said the team knows they are on everyone's list to beat and will have to play their best every time out on the field.

Shortstop Josh Miguel and center fielder Patrick Mulry are the seniors back for a fourth year at the varsity level. Catcher Trey Balber and pitcher/first baseman Matt Valencia are starting their third year with the varsity. Also back are seniors Gino Franceschetti, second base; Jake Hood, outfield; utility man and backup catcher Josh Vandagriff and pitcher/OF/IF Matt Roberson. Junior Robbie Steves is also back for a second year with the varsity, a third baseman who saw time at this level last year as a sophomore.

Joining the varsity squad are juniors Brent Montgomery (P), outfielders Alex Loureiro, Phillip Kimble and Tad Dimas; middle infielder Alec Nerland, catcher/1B Nathan Chunn, 1B/DH Vince Valenzuela and utility man Raymond Guevara, who can pitch and play nearly any position on the field.

"We have 17 kids and I've never kept 17 before," Largent said, noting that the team is senior-heavy but also saw a major influx of juniors. "I don't think we've ever been this deep."

Harold Hood, Dusty Fox and Steve Largent return to the assistant coaching duties, with newcomer Ross Brayton also joining the squad. An EHS alum who played collegiately and with some minor league experience, Brayton adds another dimension of depth to the coaching staff at EHS, said Largent.

For the week, the team defeated Manteca 13-7 on a blustery, cold day on Tuesday, March 6 with a four run uprising in the first seeming to set the tone.

But they allowed six runs in the bottom of the first and had to battle back to get the win. Matt Roberson had three doubles on the day, Patrick Mulry had a two-run homer as the Cougars rapped out 14 hits.

"Then we went on our road trip to the coast," Largent said of the trip to Aptos.

They took on the Aptos Mariners, the Central Coast League champions, on Friday and earned a 3-1 win in a game that took just one hour, 40 minutes to play.

"It was well played by both sides," Largent said.

Matt Valencia went the distance and scattered four hits while striking out 10.

Trey Balber had an RBI double in the second inning, Gino Franceschetti had a sacrifice fly and Mulry added a solo homer to plate two runs in the third.

"We played great defense all day, turned three double plays," Largent said. "That's the best we've ever played against a great team like that."

The Cougars also took a 7-1 win at Pacific Grove on Saturday, with one earned run given up by Brent Montgomery, who also had three strikeouts, three walks and gave up four hits.

Offensive highlights were an inside the park home run by Josh Miguel, a 2-for-3 day with a triple by Vince Valenzuela, RBIs from Robbie Steves and Alex Loureiro and a double from Alec Nerland.

In split squad play, Escalon also got some good work from Ben Hood and Matt Roberson on the mound, Hood rostered with the JV but along for the coast trip and seeing some playing time, with triples from Josh Vandagriff and Phillip Kimble.

The weather cooperated and the team had a chance to do some bonding in the midst of Xbox tournaments and lots of baseball.

"It was a good time," Largent agreed. "A very successful coast road trip and now we batten down the hatches, we have one game scheduled this week, Friday at home against Enochs, weather permitting."