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Final Week Losses Put Cougars On Road For Playoffs
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Their Trans-Valley League season didn't end the way they wanted - taking two losses in the final week - but the varsity basketball boys are headed to the playoffs and go on the road today, Wednesday, Feb. 23, for a contest at Amador.

Escalon came in at the number 13 seed, unable to grab a first round home playoff game. An unexpected loss to Hilmar on Tuesday, followed by a hard-fought loss to Modesto Christian on Friday, dropped the Cougars into the double digits in playoff seeding. Riverbank, which Escalon twice beat in TVL play, came in at the number nine seed and gets Calaveras in the first round.

"Thirteen is better than nine," Escalon head coach Martin Louro said, noting that Modesto Christian lurks for the winner of the eighth-ninth place seed contest while the Cougars, at number 13, are on the opposite side of the bracket from the Crusaders. With a win in the opening round against Amador, Escalon would face the winner of the Highlands (fifth seed) - Central Catholic (12) match up on Friday, Feb. 25.

Looking back at the past week, Louro said his team just wasn't ready to go on Tuesday, possibly taken a little off their game by being out for a weeklong school vacation.

"It's not an excuse, but it is a factor," he said. "We were flat and Hilmar was fighting for their (playoff) life. If they lost to us, they were done. If they beat us, they still had a chance to get in."

Hilmar took overtime to do it, but defeated the Cougars 54-52 in the Feb. 15 contest. The Yellowjackets were up 29-26 at halftime, Escalon outscored them 22-19 over the final two periods to force the OT at 48-48.

"We really did not follow the game plan," admitted Louro of the contest. "Hilmar played great, we got their A-plus performance and they got our C-minus performance."

Nate Peterson put in 15 points in the loss, with 12 from Gino Franceschetti on four 3's, 10 points from Robbie Leal.

On Friday night, the Cougars hosted Modesto Christian and put together a solid effort for 32 minutes, coming up a little short in the final score. But the gym was packed for Senior Night, recognition given to senior players Leal, Peterson, Brandon Shaw and Tyler Schuurman and cheerleaders Courtney Russell and Jacilia Johnson prior to the game.

"It was a great crowd, and absolutely a great game," Louro said. "We executed pretty well and our goal was to find a way to keep them (Crusaders) off the glass. My guys were trying to get position but MC is so athletic, still my guys were battling for loose balls, battling for rebounds."

Escalon hung tough, down 17-14 after one and trailing 29-25 at the half. They made up the deficit and tied it up on a Franceschetti 3-pointer with 5:55 to play in the third. A free throw by Shaw put Escalon up 33-32 at the 4:40 mark, then a Leal put back made it 35-32 Escalon with 4:20 to go in the third. MC answered back and started heating up, leading 45-37 after three quarters and taking the contest by a final of 62-50. Escalon ran into some trouble late, going cold from the floor.

"If you're going to beat a team like that, you have to hit your shots," said Louro. "We just didn't have a good shooting night ... they'd score, we would come down and miss the shot, that's really what it came down to."

Franceschetti had 17 points on the night, with 14 from Peterson and nine from Leal.

Escalon closed out league play with a 7-5 mark, making the playoffs but having to go on the road. They took third overall in league, behind MC and Ripon. When the playoffs start, though, everyone goes to a 0-0 mark and it's win or go home.

"We are the number 13 seed," Louro said, "but we're a pretty tough 13 seed."