Getting back on the basketball court after more than a year, Escalon’s varsity and JV basketball boys got to face off with one of the elite teams in the region: Central Catholic.
“They are one of the top teams and programs in our area, we got introduced to the Valley Oak League’s best early on,” said varsity head coach Nate Bartelink. “But it was great to be back on the basketball court, the first time in over a year, we were happy about that.”
Escalon traveled to nearby Modesto for the season opener, taking on Central in a Thursday night game, April 22.
Bartelink serves as head coach for the varsity with Dave Anderson returning to coach the freshmen. The two are also sharing duties to coach the JV team this season.
Central Catholic does not have a freshman team this year so, for the road game, the Cougars combined their freshman and JV into one team.
It was an 86-56 loss for the varsity boys on Thursday night, down 34-16 at the half.
“We knew they were good coming in, we had to play well on both ends of the floor,” the coach said.
Showing some rust after the long layoff, the Cougars had some difficulty getting into the defensive mode and Central took advantage.
“Hopefully we learn through that,” noted Bartelink.
Brenden Holmes primarily played just the second half for the Cougars and poured in 21 points, putting on a show, including hitting a trio of treys.
Russell Weinbrecht had 13 points, Ty Harris added 12 while coming off the just-completed football season and now juggling baseball and basketball.
Sophomore Jack Anderson had two threes in his varsity debut.
“Over this last year, when things were shut down, he didn’t use that as an excuse to not put in the work, I am looking for big things from him,” Bartelink said.
And while the coach said it was a disappointing outcome in terms of a 30 point loss, he said the team did rebound well.
They hosted Central the next day, Friday in Escalon.
“We had a pregame talk the following day, we said defense needed to be the focus,” he said. “It was a much more competitive game, played at a pretty high level.”
The outcome was the same, a loss, going in the books as a 72-54 final. However, with just a few seconds left in the third quarter, Escalon trailed by two and had the chance to take the lead but a three-point attempt did not go in. They were down by four heading into the final frame.
“It was close until the fourth quarter,” Bartelink said, but then some fatigue set in and his team faded out a bit.
They were down early, allowing 18 points in the first four minutes but, after a time out, redoubled their defensive efforts.
Down 40-29 at the half, Escalon won the third quarter with a 21-14 run, trailing 54-50 going into the fourth.
“Unfortunately we just kind of dried up offensively, things were tough in the fourth,” Bartelink pointed out.
Weinbrecht, Anderson and Harris played the entire game, with Holmes out for that contest.
Weinbrecht had 25 points, Anderson 15 including four treys, and Harris had 12 points and played solid defense.
“They (Central) had some late baskets, but I’m very proud of how the guys bounced back,” said Bartelink.
For the JV team, the Thursday night game went into the books as a 71-40 loss.
Central had a 13-8 lead after one quarter and went up 31-16 at the half. They really turned up the heat to start the second half, outscoring Escalon 24-14 in the third and putting the game away with a 16-10 scoring edge in the final frame.
“It was eye opening in terms of the speed, a good way to get their feet wet,” Bartelink said. “We are thankful for the games we get … we are not taking things for granted.”
Ben Fletcher was the leading scorer with 12 points while Donovan Rozevink added nine, all in the third period. Zack Valencia, Sawyer Mello and Ethan Garza each scored five points in the loss.
Friday, Escalon hosted Central at the JV level and also were able to get the freshmen a game, bringing in East Union.
“They played really, really well, it was a true freshman game, and it came down to the end,” Bartelink said of the frosh contest.
Rozevink sank a pair of free throws to tie the game late, but the Lancers were able to escape with a 41-38 victory.
Luke Maxwell had a couple of three pointers while Rozevink was leading scorer. Jamin Miller played some solid minutes, putting some energy into the game, while also doing double duty with baseball.
“They played hard, it was good to see them out there competing,” said Bartelink.
With the JV team hosting Central, Bartelink said they got a few players back for that contest and put together a solid effort, but again lost to the Raiders. The final on Friday was 57-42.
Escalon had a 16-14 lead after one but Central went on a 19-4 run in the second to lead 33-20 at the half. It was 16-13 in Central’s favor in the third, 9-8 Escalon in the fourth.
“It was closer than it looked on the scoreboard, more competitive, we were playing more traditional JV players, we only had six of them, so they got lots of minutes,” said Bartelink.
Logan Anderson joined in after playing baseball on Thursday, contributing 11 points and making many defensive stops. Garza had 12 points, all on three-pointers, and played a solid all around game.
Valencia and Fletcher added six points apiece, Derek Fragoso had five, Mello chipped in with two.
“We took a big step forward in just 24 hours,” Bartelink said of being more competitive.
The JV and varsity teams are to play at Hughson on April 28, play at home Thursday and travel for a league game on Friday, April 30. The Thursday and Friday games are against Ripon Christian.