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Lady Cougars Take Down First Two Playoff Opponents
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Taking a moment to huddle together and go over strategy during an earlier season contest at home, the varsity Lady Cougars finished third in the Trans-Valley League basketball standings but hit their stride to take a pair of road playoff wins this past week. Marg Jackson/The Times

The playoff run for Escalon's varsity basketball girls came to an end Tuesday night, Feb. 21 as they lost a 58-41 decision to Riverbank, bowing out in the semifinal round.

But the squad put together a strong run, winning a pair of road games in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs during the past week.

They started out with a win in Sacramento, against Capital Christian in the opening round of the Division 4 playoffs on Feb. 14. Then, it was up to Calaveras for a tightly contested win in the quarterfinals on Feb. 16.

Escalon came in as the number 10 seed, having to go on the road. They didn’t let a long trip to Sacramento deter them for the opener, coming away with a solid 58-44 victory over the number seven seed Capital Christian Cougars.

“They led 6-0 and 8-2, all their points coming in the paint, after the first few minutes, but we stuck to the game plan and cut it to a single possession and trailed 18-16 after the first quarter,” explained head coach Joseph Dalpogetti. “In the second quarter Kelsey Webster hit a three to give us our first lead, 21-20, and we never trailed again.”

Escalon had a slight 29-26 edge at the half and put a little more distance between themselves and the host team in the third.

“In the third quarter our press turned them over a handful of times and we got a few easy ones in transition and led 44-36 at the end of the third,” noted Dalpogetti. “In the fourth our lead got up as large as 15 and we were able to walk the ball up the court for the final six minutes and work for a high quality shot after running about 20 seconds off the 30 second shot clock consistently.”

Defense also proved to be a big factor in the game, said the coach.

“We let their big post hurt us in the first quarter. She is a transfer from Folsom High, a very good girls basketball program, but we held her to only two points, both from the line, in the final three quarters,” Dalpogetti explained.

Yaneli Gomez was tasked with the bulk of shutting her down and did her job, he added.

Capital Christian’s leading scorer, a freshman who averaged nearly 16 points per game, was held to four points by the defense of Sammy Lang with all the points scored early in the contest.

Offensively, Macie Vickers poured in 27 points for the squad.

“The girls were excited after the game,” Dalpogetti said. “It was the first playoff win since the 2004-05 season.”

Thursday’s second round game was another road trip, this time to face the Calaveras Redhawks, the number two seed.

“They throttled last year’s Section champ Dixon 68-22 in the first round,” Dalpogetti pointed out. “Calaveras entered our game on a 13 game win streak and had not lost a game in 2023. They were a perfect 10-0 in Mother Lode League play.”

But Escalon had the answers and did not trail all game long.

“There were at 7 and at 9 but we went on a 4-0 run to close the first quarter to lead 13-9,” Dalpogetti said. “In the second quarter we put together a nice run to lead by 29-19.”

The double digit lead at half dwindled early in the third, as Calaveras started the period out by cutting into the lead by five points.

“But we answered back on a 5-0 run to end the third and lead by 10 again, 39-29.”

Staying their course, however, Calaveras battled their way back in to the contest.

“We scored first two baskets of the fourth to get up by 14, and then Calaveras got hot,” Dalpogetti explained.

With three minutes to play and up by 12, the coach said it was then “the wheels kind of fell off” for Escalon.

A foul on a Calaveras three-point shot saw them make two of the three free throws, then the player that had been fouled hit another three; they added one in the paint and another player hit a corner three. Escalon stopped scoring and, with a minute to go, the lead had dwindled to four points. Calaveras fouled and Escalon missed the front end of the one and one, with the home team getting the ball and scoring, trimming the lead to two.

“We inbounded the ball after a time out and got fouled again with 14 seconds left, up two,” explained Dalpogetti. “Once again we missed the front end of the one and one and they pushed the ball. Made a few passes and heaved a long thee that hit the backboard and fell. It looked like they may have had an offensive rebound and there was a scramble. The ball hit the ground; people were diving for it and the buzzer sounded and the official waved his hands to end the game and we just went nuts.”

Final score was 48-46 in favor of Escalon.

“I reached out to Gary Ball and Steve French, two longtime teachers and coaches who were involved with girls basketball,” Dalpogetti said. “Both of them threw out the year 1980 as the last time the girls basketball program had won two playoff games. Also with the second round win we will automatically get into the Nor Cal playoffs for the first time in school history; it was not a thing in 1980.”

Vickers had 19 points in the win over Calaveras, Lang added 15.

“We are excited to be where we are,” Dalpogetti said of the playoff victories and the Nor Cal bid. “I am watching a team that wants to win for each other more than for themselves.”

Riverbank, by virtue of its semifinal win, moves on to face top seed Colfax in the Section final, with the championship game scheduled Friday, Feb. 24.

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Escalon’s defense forces a turnover in the first half against Calaveras on Feb. 16 at Mike Flock Gym in San Andreas. Photo Courtesy Of Guy Dossi/Calaveras Enterprise