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Junior Varsity, Freshmen Battle In Cougar Classic
Freshman player Jacob Augusto, center, looks for an open teammate as he tries to dish off the ball during afternoon action against Ripon Christian in the holiday Cougar Classic basketball tournament. Marg Jackson/The Times

With the holiday Cougar Classic played in both the old and new gyms on the Escalon High School campus the week between Christmas and New Year, both the Cougar JV and freshmen finished in third place.

This was the ninth annual Escalon Cougar Christmas Classic.

For the JV boys, they defeated Argonaut, lost to the eventual champion team in Edison and beat McNair in the third place game. Ethan Garza was named to All-Tournament team and the squad has so far posted an 8-5 overall record.

“Half of our JV team had to fill-in at the last minute for the freshman Modesto High School team which had to drop from the tournament due to COVID quarantine,” explained Escalon Athletic Director and varsity basketball head coach Nate Bartelink. “Angel Castro, AJ Cerasi, Sammy Sandoval, Jared Featherston, Parker Saunders and Nigel Matos did a great job over the three games and gained valuable on court experience.”

The freshmen also took third place, as they topped Johansen, lost to Ripon Christian and beat McNair in the third place game. Nathan Belletto was named to the All-Tournament Team and they came in to this week’s action with a 10-4 overall record.

“Game one we were in a tight first half battle against Johansen but played a really great second half and ended up winning 59-43,” said freshman head coach Steve Largent. “Daniel Gonzalez led in scoring with 24 points while Jacob Augusto gave us a great spark off the bench with a tremendous defensive effort.”

Largent said the team then got a taste of what it will take to compete for the TVL crown, facing off with league foe Ripon Christian.

“We played a solid first quarter but the game got away from us,” he said of the lopsided loss to the Knights.

They rebounded, however, in the “hardware game” against McNair of Stockton.

“I thought our performance against McNair was our best game yet and we started the second half on a tear and flew around defensively and held McNair to only 11 points total in the second half,” the coach said of coming together to get the third place honors.

Nathan Belletto had 20 points and stepped up in the absence of Ryan Murphy, nursing a bad ankle.

“I’d like to thank all of the parents that once again helped out so that we could host a successful tournament,” Bartelink summarized. “Whether it was their contribution to the hospitality room for the coaches and officials or working at the door or in the snack bar, I am very appreciative of their efforts.”