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Late season losses for Cougar basketball boys
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Driving in toward the basket, Ben Fletcher tries to work his way around the Ripon defense in Thursday night action, Feb. 1. Fletcher paced the varsity team with 21 points but Escalon ultimately fell short, 65-62. Marg Jackson/The Times

It was a one-win week for Escalon’s varsity basketball boys, salvaging a game on the road to close out a busy trio of Trans-Valley League contests.

Tuesday, Jan. 30 at Ripon Christian the boys lost, then battled Ripon in a home contest at the Cougar Dome on Thursday, Feb. 1 but fell just short, and wrapped up the week as they traveled to Livingston and got a win there on Friday, Feb. 2.

Leading 16-9 after the first quarter of their road game at RC, an 18-2 run by the host Knights in the second quarter made the difference.

“We thought it was important to have a good start, a good first quarter on the road. We did that. Unfortunately, the second quarter was maybe the worst quarter we had all year,” said head coach Nate Bartelink. “During that quarter, we missed several makeable shots, we turned it over a lot and didn’t rebound well, giving them extra possessions. That put us in a double-digit deficit for much of the rest of the game.”

The Cougars did a good job of battling back and closed the gap late.

“We got the deficit down to five at one point late in the fourth quarter where a crucial call didn’t go our way,” Bartelink said. “No excuses; we shouldn’t have put ourselves in a position where one play makes or breaks it for us. We didn’t rebound well down the stretch; we allowed RC to get some key offensive rebounds and second chance points. RC is too good of a team to fall behind double digits in their own gym and expect to have success.”

Ethan Garza had 15 points, five rebounds, and five steals; Logan Huebner added 10 points, five rebounds, and three steals; Ben Fletcher chipped in with nine points; Sam Jimenez had eight points, nine rebounds and five steals.

In a hard-fought game at home on Feb. 1, Ripon came away with the win, 65-62. Escalon again started out with a strong first quarter, leading the visitors 17-10, though Ripon turned it around and outscored Escalon 23-13 in the second to take a 33-30 lead at the break.

“Ripon extended their lead in the second half and were up by 10 points with four minutes to play. We then decided to play a little more desperately and things started to turn in our favor,” said Bartelink. “Unfortunately, as our desperation increased, we had some key players foul out; Ryan Lewis early in the fourth quarter, and Ethan Garza and Logan Huebner towards the end of the game. If we have those three to finish the game, the result may have been better.”

The teams traded some free throws down the stretch and Escalon missed a couple of good looks, said Bartelink, ultimately leaving them down three points when the final buzzer sounded.

“We had the ball, down two with 13 seconds left. We missed a great look at the rim with under 10 seconds left. Ripon made another free throw and we weren’t able to convert a desperation attempt,” Bartelink explained. “It was a very disappointed locker room; rightfully so. We need to put together 32 minutes of good basketball, or our postseason run will be a short one.”

Senior Ben Fletcher led the team with 21 points, including 13 in the first half to keep the Cougars in the game, and added five rebounds. Jimenez had 15 points, six rebounds; Huebner had eight points, six rebounds; Garza and Lewis each had six points and four rebounds.

Friday’s game, doubling back in a quick turnaround, saw the Cougars handle the host Livingston Wolves by an 82-54 final.

“Coming into this game, we were very short handed. Ethan Garza had been battling an illness all week, and just before the game was about to start, it was decided that he couldn’t play,” said Bartelink. “We were planning on giving Ben Ferreira the night off to rest his nagging ankle injury, but those plans changed once we knew Ethan was out of the line-up. I give Ben credit for displaying a lot of toughness, trying to play through this injury, but it has limited him. He wants to do everything he can to help his teammates. We also had two other players out due to illness.”

It all added up to a slow start for the Cougars, but they eventually put their game together and steadily pulled away from the Wolves. They trailed 19-17 after one but were up 41-34 at half and outscored Livingston 41-20 over the final two periods to get a win on the books.

“Given that we were down a few key players, Sam Jimenez put us on his back throughout the game and willed us to convincing victory. He shot a whopping 15 free throws. I feel like he hasn’t been rewarded by the officials much of the season for how physical he plays; Friday night he was,” added Bartelink. “He’s a leader and he was making plays everywhere, including a half court buzzer beater to end the third quarter. Ryan Lewis also played really well on both sides of the floor. Ben Fletcher and Logan Huebner did a great job shutting down Livingston’s best player after he made his first couple three-point attempts. Ryan Murphy also gave us good minutes throughout the game. We were able to get everyone a lot of playing time, which was nice.”

Jimenez paced the effort with 28 points, seven steals, five rebounds and four assists.

Lewis poured in 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and three steals; Fletcher had 12 points, six assists, four rebounds; Huebner added seven points, five rebounds, four assists; Daniel Gonzalez had seven points and three steals on the night.

With the win, the varsity squad ended the week at 20-6 overall; 6-4 in TVL; currently ranked number four in the most recent MaxPreps CIF SJS Division IV rankings.

“This is the first 20-win season for our program since the 2005 section championship team, which won 23 games,” Bartelink said. “While we are very proud of the positive steps our program has taken in recent years, we know there is much more work to be done this season, and in future seasons. We are not satisfied.”

Senior Night hosting Hughson on Wednesday, Feb. 7 will feature honors for six Cougar seniors and their families for all of their contributions to the program: Ben Fletcher, Cam Dalpogetti, Ethan Garza, Frank Richard Barrera, Jagger Scott, and Sammy Sandoval.

Friday, the varsity closes out TVL play on the road at Hilmar.



The JV boys were winners on the road at Ripon Christian, took a tough loss at home to Ripon by just a few points on Thursday, then fell in overtime to Livingston to end the week at 11-15 overall, 5-5 in TVL play. The JV will be home Wednesday, on the road Friday.

For the freshmen, it was also a tough week, losing all three but each loss coming on just a handful of points. The freshmen are 11-15 overall, 2-8 in league.

“We dropped all three games by a combined 10 points,” said coach Steve Largent.

The final at Ripon Christian was 50-43 and the frosh boys then lost to Ripon in overtime, 52-50.

“We played a really great game,” Largent said of the home contest with Ripon. “It was tough to match the energy and intensity of Thursday and we dug ourselves a huge hole in the first quarter down at Livingston. Despite a valiant comeback effort, we fell short by one point.”

Ezra Romeno had 19 points in the Friday night contest.

Freshmen kick off the Wednesday contests, Feb. 7 and then the frosh boys only will be in action Thursday night, Feb. 8 against Hilmar, hosting the Yellowjackets in a 7 p.m. contest.

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Conner Jones stretches out to try and block the shot attempt during the Thursday night junior varsity contest at Escalon. The young Cougars lost a tight one to visiting Ripon. Marg Jackson/The Times