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Final Week Split Earns TVL Title For Varsity Baseball
Needing to at least split their games with Ripon Christian to capture the league title, Escalon's varsity baseball boys accomplished that feat this week. They joined the varsity girls as Trans-Valley League champions, losing at home Tuesday but winning the crown with a road victory at RC on Wednesday.

The Cougars hosted the Knights on Tuesday, May 11 and lost a 7-5 decision to the visitors. The Knights jumped out in front in the second inning with a dropped fly ball and consecutive singles.

"We got it back in the bottom of the third," noted head coach Greg Largent. "Travis Cardoza singled, Josh Miguel singled and Cardoza went to third, then Miguel stole second."

That put runners on second and third with no outs but two strikeouts followed. Nick Largent then came up with a two-out two RBI single to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.

Ripon Christian answered back with three runs in the top of the fourth to make it 4-2, with a leadoff double, single, a couple of stolen bases and an error helping account for the runs.

Escalon put one on the board off an error by RC in their half of the fourth, Derrick DeFreitas scoring after getting on with a single, advancing on a ground out and a Trey Balber fly out. Cardoza reached on the error that allowed the run to score.

That made it 4-3 but Ripon Christian added to the lead with a three-run homer in the fifth, making it 7-3.

"We went quietly in the fifth and sixth," admitted Largent. "But in the seventh, Miguel reached on an error and moved upon an out, then Brandon Shaw singled for the RBI."

That cut the lead to 7-4 and another out followed. Patrick Mulry then doubled, a hard shot that narrowly missed leaving the field, banging off the left field wall, driving in Shaw to make it 7-5.

However, that was as close as the varsity boys would get, taking the loss.

"It gave us momentum leading into Wednesday's game," Largent said of the way the team battled back in the seventh.

Justin Martinez went five innings on Tuesday, scattering nine hits and walking one while striking out 12. Matt Valencia came on to pitch the final two innings and struck our four.

Each team had nine hits on Tuesday, Escalon had two errors and Ripon Christian committed three.

"We don't lose at home too much," Largent said of taking the loss.

It did force the team into a 'must win' situation in Wednesday's finale if they wanted the league title by themselves and the top seed from the league.

For almost the first time this season, there were some jitters before Wednesday's game, said Largent.

"Going in we were a little nervous," he admitted. "I told the kids go out and do what you do, have fun,"

He also reminded them that they were the defending TVL champions and they needed to make Ripon Christian work to take the title away.

As it turned out, the Cougars were in command, taking a 7-1 win.

They got the scoring started in the third, with a leadoff single from Balber. He moved to second on a passed ball. After two outs, Spencer Franceschetti walked, Aaron Pangilinan walked and Largent sent a chopper over the pitcher's head that he beat out for the single as two runners crossed the plate for the early 2-0 lead.

"In the fourth with one out, Matt Valencia singled and stole a base, then Trey Balber followed with a two-run homer, into the teeth of the wind in left field, to make it 4-0," Largent said, noting that his catcher is emerging from a tough late season slump.

Ripon Christian threatened in the bottom of the inning after a couple of walks and a steal put runners on the corners with no outs.

A line out to second, a fly out to shallow center field and a ground out got pitcher Brandon Shaw out of the inning with no damage done.

Escalon added to the lead in the sixth, getting a leadoff double from Valencia, an RBI double from Balber, an RBI single from Cardoza and an RBI double from Franceschetti. Pinch runner Tym Blair was one of those crossing the plate, coming in on Cardoza's single.

That gave the Cougars a 7-0 lead and Ripon Christian went quietly in the sixth before finally breaking through in their final at bat.

"Brandon was flirting with a no hitter, he had one out in the seventh and then they had a solo home run," Largent said of losing the no hitter and shutout on the same pitch.

A double followed but that's where the threat ended, as a groundout and a strikeout ended the game with the Cougars taking the title.

Escalon had seven runs on 12 hits with one error. Ripon Christian had one run on two hits with one error. Valencia was 2-for-3 in the win and Balber was 4-for-4 with three RBIs.

"Every spot in the line up got a hit but one and it was a nice way to wrap up league," Largent said of winning the TVL title with the 12-3 mark. "It is quite an accomplishment, it's one thing off our checklist."

After going undefeated last year through preseason and the league campaign, the Cougars had an early, unexpected first round exit from the playoffs and are looking to avoid that fate this season.

Escalon was scheduled to open the first round of the playoffs with a game against Bret Harte at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Zupo Field in Lodi, after The Times went to press.

"We played them early, beat them 9-1 in the third game of the season but they still had a lot of guys playing basketball," Largent said, noting that the team they see in the playoffs will be vastly improved from the preseason squad.

The Cougars expanded their roster for the playoffs and brought up six players from the JV squad. They include Gino Franceschetti, Robbie Steves, Matt Roberson, Jake Hood, Tyler Vitale and Brent Montgomery.