The gauntlet that has been the preseason is over. Escalon will kick off Trans-Valley League play today, Wednesday, March 20 at Riverbank.
And, predicted coach Greg Largent, they will be ready.
After a tough preseason that ended with a pair of losses to Valley Oak League teams, the 2013 squad will be looking to get on a roll. Facing high caliber pitching throughout the preseason should make them stronger when they dig in against the TVL.
Wednesday at East Union, the varsity fell behind 5-0 before rallying to tie it 5-5 in the late innings. But they lost in heartbreaking fashion at the end, 6-5.
East Union had four runs in the second and one in the fourth to lead it 5-0.
“We put a rally together in the sixth, scored four runs,” Largent explained. “We tied it up in the seventh.”
In the sixth, Robbie Steves had a leadoff single and Nathan Chunn doubled him home. Owen Pangilinan walked, Brandon Grogan was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
“Luis Estrada then drilled one, just missed a grand slam, it hit the base of the left field wall and scored two,” said Largent.
Vince Valenzuela came in to pinch hit and reached on a fielder’s choice, with a run scoring, to trim the lead to 5-4.
“In the top of the seventh with one out, Owen reached on an error, Grogan had a bunt single and they both moved up on a passed ball,” explained Largent. “Estrada then had a sacrifice fly that tied it up.”
In the bottom of the seventh, East Union got a leadoff single, then the next batter struck out. After a pop up to the catcher, it was two outs with the runner still on first and it looked like the teams might go to extra innings.
“The next batter hit a line shot to right center, Tad Dimas came in and just made a great catch, laid himself out but the umpire ruled it was a trap and by the time we realized it was not a catch, it was too late, the runner from first had already scored,” Largent said.
Though it was a loss in the books, the coach said it was still a “moral victory” as the squad battled back from the five-run deficit.
Brent Montgomery started and went four innings, allowed five runs (three earned) and scattered six hits, walking two. Alec Nerland came on in relief and was tagged with the loss, but struck out four and allowed two hits in two-and-two-thirds innings.
“He had the knuckleball working,” Largent said.
Dimas was 2-for-2 with a double, Estrada was 1-for-3 with three RBIs on the day.
Thursday, the varsity squad hosted Manteca and battled to a 1-0 loss against the Buffaloes.
“It was just a good old-fashioned 1-0 game,” said Largent. “Ben Hood pitched a complete game, eight strikeouts, four hits, one walk, he allowed a solo home run in the fourth for their only run.
“We played great defense behind him.”
Offensively, Valenzuela was 2-for-3, Steves had a double and Hood and Chunn also notched hits.
“The kids are a little frustrated but our record doesn’t indicate how we’ve played,” Largent said of having just a couple of victories so far. “We’ve weathered the storm of a tough preseason, we’ve had some gut-wrenching losses but our pitching has come on strong.”
The Cougars will try to put it all together as they play Riverbank in a road game Wednesday and a home game Friday to kick off league play.