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Escalon Battles Hilmar In Section Soccer Final
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These Lady Cougars made history.

For the first time, Escalon battled it out for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV soccer title. They faced off against Trans-Valley League rival Hilmar on Saturday, May 21 at Lincoln High School in Stockton for the section crown.

After finishing second to Hilmar in the regular season, the Lady Cougars went into the playoffs as the second seed in the league and held off Calaveras in a first round game on Tuesday, May 17, 1-0. They upended Bret Harte, 6-1, in Thursday's semifinal and then went on to the title match.

There, they took an early 1-0 lead but ultimately lost a 3-1 decision to the Yellowjackets, who won the Division IV title.

Even so, it was an upbeat group that left the field, knowing they had accomplished something no Escalon team had ever done.

"It's crazy, it's unreal," admitted senior and defensive standout Aprille Ray. "It's the best of the best in Division IV, no one thought we would make it here."

But they did make it, with Ray one of four seniors on the team getting to the championship match in their final season.

Sophomore Kaity Bojorquez, who teamed with junior Kacey Ball to make a formidable front, was already planning for the future.

"We played hard, we did," she said, noting that she expects to be back in the finals next year.

Saturday's game was played on the Lincoln High football field, adapted for soccer, and was on Astroturf. While that may have made the ball bounce a little higher and move a little faster, both teams adjusted well. With temperatures close to 90 degrees off the field, however, it was another 10 to 15 degrees hotter on the surface.

"Your feet are burning," admitted Ray.

Teammate Ashley Brown said it was sometimes hard to stay ahead of the play.

"It was rolling really fast but it was exciting," she said. "I'm sad we lost, I think I could have played a little better."

Coach Craig Humrichouse was quick with his praise for the entire team following the finale.

"I know you're disappointed but don't be upset," Humrichouse said after the traditional end-of-game handshake with their opponents. "We're a young team, we're going to be right back here next'll be our turn."

In the opening round game on Tuesday, May 17, the Lady Cougars played host to Calaveras, a team they lost to by a 5-0 score in February. That, however, was only the second game of the season and Escalon was without some players, still active in basketball at the time.

Entering the playoffs on a high note, the squad kept the ball rolling. They took the field determined to beat Calaveras this time around and took a thrilling 1-0 win.

"In playoff games, it's often just one mistake that makes the difference and we took advantage," explained Humrichouse. "Basically it was a play where Ashley crossed the ball over, their keeper bobbled the ball and Kacey was right there, she jumped on it and finished it."

The score came early in the second half and the Lady Cougars went into defensive mode, stopping several Calaveras drives to take the win.

"They put a lot of pressure on but it's playoff time," Humrichouse noted. "They were physical, we were preparing for that."

The coach added he anticipated a tough game and was pretty sure that one goal would win it, one way or the other.

"I knew it would be close and very tight," he said.

Escalon had five shots on goal, Calaveras took eight and Sarah Quiroz had four saves.

"Aprille Ray had a good game for us, she played well and Ashley Brown had an outstanding game also," said Humrichouse. "Megan Brown was marked on their best player and did a great job, Emily Alves played outstanding and so did Lindsay Richards at midfielder, I'm especially pleased with the way Emily and Lindsay have stepped it up."

Thursday, the girls were back on the home field and hosted Bret Harte, a team they had beaten earlier in the season by a 4-3 decision. This time, it was all Escalon as the girls put away the visiting Bullfrogs by a 6-1 verdict.

Ball had the hat trick, scoring three goals, with two from Bojorquez and one from Kristine Lima. Five different players had assists, with one each from Ball, Bojorquez, Lima, Paige Fulgieri and Brown.

Escalon took a 1-0 lead into the half and then exploded for five goals in the second half.

"We just finally broke them down and finished balls," said Humrichouse. "We had a truckload of opportunities in the first half, really dominated, we had 25 shots on goal, they had four...the girls played one of their best games of the year."

Ray and fellow senior Sophia Vasquez gave up their senior trip to Disneyland to stay and play, a decision that Humrichouse said the team appreciated but also understood those that chose to go on the senior trip as well.

"I've got Sober Grad to look forward to," Ray pointed out.

The win propelled the Lady Cougars into Saturday's championship game, which kicked off at 1 p.m. at the Lincoln High field.

In two league games this season, the Yellowjackets came out on top, shutting out the Lady Cougars 3-0 on March 24 and then taking a 3-1 win against them on April 26.

This time, it was the Lady Cougars that took the lead about 15 minutes in to the contest, with a rush up the field ending with a pass from Ball to the foot of Fulgieri, who beat freshman goalkeeper Krystal Gaglio for the score. The goal came at 24:02 but the lead was short-lived, as the Yellowjackets tied it up at the 21:50 mark, converting on a corner kick. Jessica Souza got the tying goal, as the Hilmar team used some misdirection to cause confusion in front of the net and sent a shot over the fingertips of a leaping Quiroz.

Hilmar took the lead at the 8:34 mark, again on a corner kick, with Sara Aguiar sending the shot in.

The halftime score was 2-1 in favor of the Yellowjackets and coach Humrichouse stressed to his players the need to get to the ball first and keep Hilmar out of the corner kick situation. Hilmar put the final goal in the net with 17:04 to play, Souza striking for her second goal of the day.

The Yellowjackets effectively put the clamps on Escalon's striker/forward Ball, allowing her just the assist. Ball did get a couple of shots off but was frustrated by the 'jacket defense.

"That ball was moving so fast," Ball said of the quick field. "It was crazy."

Ball, the leading scorer for the Lady Cougars this season with 34 goals and 13 assists, said the appearance in the title game only made her hungry for more.

"No one's satisfied just coming here," she admitted, noting she wanted to win it for the seniors. "The whole team deserves it."

Added teammate Emily Alves, "I just wanted to beat Hilmar."

Although Escalon kept the pressure on and had some scoring opportunities in the second half, they were turned away by Hilmar's keeper, who ended the day with 12 saves. Quiroz had four.

"Darned old Hilmar," said Humrichouse. "They just had our number this year."

Escalon got the lead but couldn't hold it, he noted, with Hilmar applying constant pressure. Still, he said his team played a solid game.

"Overall we played a good game, we had a little more confidence going against Hilmar this time, we weren't supposed to get into the finals," he said. "We're young, we have lot of kids coming back and will have a lot of good kids coming up from the JV."

The Lady Cougars ended the season with their second place Division IV plaque and a 15-6-4 record.

"It's a great accomplishment," said Humrichouse.