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Homecoming Heartbreak Two Tough Losses For Varsity Basketball Boys
Playing good basketball, the varsity Cougar boys had two solid efforts on the court this week but didn't come away with any wins in Trans-Valley League action.

"The effort was there, the results couldn't have been any worse," admitted coach Martin Louro.

The varsity squad lost on the road to Riverbank on Jan. 27 and then couldn't quite hold off Hughson in Friday night's Homecoming game on Jan. 30.

At Riverbank for the Tuesday game, one bad quarter cost the Cougars a chance to win.

"It's just a tough place to play," Louro said. "They sure have a home court advantage."

Adjusting to the smaller confines of the Riverbank gym early, the Cougars trailed by just three points, 15-12, after one quarter. But they went cold in the second eight minutes, putting in just five points as the host Bruins connected for a dozen.

"The second quarter really proved to be the difference," the coach agreed. "We did panic a little bit, we had about five unforced errors and when you give a team that many extra chances ..."

Escalon got just one field goal and hit 3-of-4 free throws in the second quarter for their five points.

The teams played evenly in the second half, each scoring 28 points, but the damage done early carried Riverbank to the 55-45 win.

"Riverbank is always going to be in your face, scrappy," Louro said. "They are very aggressive, they try to get you flustered and we got a little out of control."

Doyle Niu did all he could in a 20-point performance, leading the team. Leighton Pangilinan and Brandon Shaw each had six points, with Raymond David chipping in with five. Justin Gutierrez and Vince Aufdermaur had three each, Phil Quiroz added two.

"Doyle had nine points in the first quarter, four in the third, seven in the fourth," Louro said. "We needed to get him the ball more."

Despite the loss, the coach was pleased with the effort, noting that the team fought hard to the end against the host Riverbank team.

"We're getting the looks we want," he said. "The kids are leaving it all out there."

Friday night's Homecoming game was a thriller, even though it went in the loss column for the Cougars, ultimately falling 61-57 to the Huskies. They had a lead at the half and maintained it through the third quarter, but Hughson kept chipping away and took advantage of some key 3's and an unlikely technical foul on Niu, called for face guarding in the fourth quarter.

"It was a big night, a lot of stuff going on, a big crowd," said Louro. "It would be nice if we could fill the gym like that for every game, the kids feed off the energy."

And though Hughson walked off the court with the win, Louro said the exciting, fast-paced game assured that "everybody got their money's worth" when they attended the contest.

Hughson was up 19-16 after one, with the Cougars hitting a groove in the second quarter, exploding for a 22-9 run to take a 38-28 lead at the half.

"Everything went right for us in the second quarter," agreed Louro. "We were 7-for-12 from the floor in that quarter."

Three-point specialist Zack Adams of Hughson gave the Cougars trouble in the first half and Niu was put on him in the second half to try and neutralize him. They were able to cut down on his production but, more than that, the shots that had been falling for Escalon in the first half stopped finding the mark, giving the Huskies a window of opportunity they seized. Hughson stayed steady and focused, slowly chipping away at the lead.

Louro said his team didn't even want to take the halftime break, up by 10 and on a roll, but ended up having to wait even longer in the locker room due to halftime Homecoming festivities.

"The third quarter, we lost 16-10 but we were still up by four points going into the fourth," the coach noted.

The big momentum changer came with the face guarding foul, which is a technical and concerns how close the defender's hands come to the face of the ball handler.

"That was with four-something left on the clock," Louro said of the pivotal point in the fourth quarter. "In all my years coaching I have never seen that call."

So Hughson had the free throws and the retaining possession that comes with a technical and capitalized, getting to within a point. Escalon then went on a run and extended the lead, but Hughson chipped away again, taking the lead on a 3-pointer with 1:40 to go in the game, giving them a 56-54 lead.

Justin Gutierrez answered back with a three of his own, putting the Cougars up 57-56. But back-to-back buckets by Hughson gave them a 60-57 lead and they then hit a free throw with 16 seconds left for a 61-57 lead. The Cougars missed a desperation 3-pointer with the clock winding down and Hughson had the win.

Louro said he erred in not taking a timeout when the Cougars got the ball after Hughson took the final lead of the game, 58-57, opting to keep running the floor. The Cougars set up too quickly for the go ahead shot and missed the mark, he said.

"I should have called a time out right there, I had one left," Louro said. "We went down and took a shot that wasn't the best look we could have had ... they got it and then we had to foul."

Leading most of the way, the game was a tough loss for his team to swallow, Louro said.

"We only made four baskets in the fourth, we were 4-for-14," he pointed out. "Of our last nine possessions, four times we didn't even get a shot off ... that's critical.

"Hopefully this will be a big learning experience for all of us."

Gutierrez was leading scorer for the Cougars with 14 points, Niu was right behind with 13. David added nine, with seven from Pangilinan and six from Shaw.

"That was the toughest loss of the season," Louro said. "I really feel for them ... one more made shot, one rebound here or there, one pass and we're 3-1, not 1-3."

The Cougars have been giving it their all, the coach said, and he hopes to see that effort continue.

"They're leaving it all out there," he said, adding that he has no complaints with the work ethic he is seeing on the court.

The boys were slated to host Ripon on Tuesday, Feb. 3 after The Times went to press. They start the second half of league play on the road Friday, Feb. 6 at Modesto Christian.