For seven years, the Cougars have had a stranglehold on the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 baseball crown.
This year was no different.
For three years, from 2010 to 2012, the Escalon Cougars brought home the blue banner. In 2013, their three-peat squad was taken down by the Capital Christian Cougars by a 3-1 verdict, and Capital Christian has not let go of the top spot since, winning the D5 crown from 2013 to 2016.
“Our old nemesis, Capital Christian, they took it in 2013 and haven’t relinquished it,” head coach Greg Largent said. “We had it three straight, then they took it four straight years.”
In 2017, the banner returned to Capital Christian, the Sacramento-area school crafting a 6-2 victory in the Section final on Monday, May 29 at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi for their fifth straight crown.
Escalon took a two-run lead in the bottom of the second on an Estephan Salcedo RBI single and a sacrifice fly from Max Nicholas. Salcedo drove in Zach Abraham, who reached via walk, and Tanner McCrary had singled to left field, moving to third on Salcedo’s hit, coming in to score on the sacrifice fly.
The two runs got the crowd cheering loudly, with a huge Escalon contingent there to support the team.
But the lead was short-lived, as Capital Christian answered right back, the first batter in the top of the third sending the ball out of the park, cutting the lead to 2-1. They scored another run on a fielder’s choice and knotted the score at 2-2.
Capital Christian went on to score two runs in the fourth and added two more in the sixth, knocking starter Justice Naraghi out of the game in the fourth, with Nick Warren coming on in relief.
Escalon had trouble getting the timely hits and even some hard hit balls were right to the Capital Christian players. Escalon also had some scoring opportunities but just couldn’t take advantage of them, leaving several runners stranded on base. Capital Christian had six runs on nine hits with two errors; Escalon had two runs on seven hits with one error.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise outstanding season, with the Cougars going 12-0 in taking the Trans-Valley League title and advancing to the championship game for the first time since 2013.
“We didn’t execute (offensively) the last three or four games,” noted Largent after receiving the second place plaque on behalf of his team.
All players also received Section runner-up patches in the post-game ceremony.
“It’s tough to compete with a team that gets to reload every year,” Largent said of the private school recruitment advantage. “But we got here and we’re a young team, hopefully we can make it back.”
Golden Empire League champion Capital Christian went 15-3 in league and came into the final contest 24-6; Escalon countered with a 26-5 overall record heading into the Monday winner-take-all finale. Capital Christian was pushed to three games in the semifinal round by sixth seed Marysville, winning 5-3, losing 6-5 and then winning by a 10-3 decision to advance to the finals.
Meanwhile, Escalon had to battle a determined number four seed Dixon team in their best two-out-of-three series to make it to the final. After an easy 9-1 victory in the second round opener on Saturday, May 20, the Cougars came back on Wednesday, May 24 looking to get one win and advance to the Division 5 finals. Dixon, however, had other ideas and took the opening contest by a 1-0 final, setting up the third and final game in the semifinal round, with the winner moving on to the championship. That contest, played shortly after the conclusion of game one on Wednesday, saw the same final score – 1-0 – but this time it was in favor of the Cougars.
“It was a whale of a series,” Largent said of the three-game battle with Dixon. “Game one on Saturday, we win it big, Wednesday’s game two, it was a wild game, we dropped it 1-0 on a checked swing base hit in the bottom of the seventh.”
With one out, Naraghi gave up a walk and then Dixon put down a sacrifice bunt. A nice running catch by Salcedo in deep right looked like it might send the game to extra innings, but the next batter got the check swing bloop hit to bring in the winning run.
“Justice took the loss but he pitched great,” said Largent. “We played solid defense behind him.”
Escalon couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities in the game, wasting several chances to get a run on the board.
“We just couldn’t get the bunt down, we stranded 11 runners,” Largent said of the unusual power outage for his squad. “We had the bases loaded in the fourth with one out and hit into a double play, just had a tough time swinging the bat, we had only three hits and struck out 10 times.”
Largent credited the Dixon pitcher with mixing his speeds and keeping the Cougars off balance.
“We came right back and played the next one in about half an hour,” Largent said of the decisive game three of the semifinal series.
In the bottom of the first inning, with one out, Colton Lowney got on with a walk, went to second on a ground out by Parker Cosby and moved to third on a pitch in the dirt.
“That was a big play because then Lucca Dutra singled sharply to left and if Colton wasn’t at third, I don’t know that he scores, it was hit hard,” explained Largent.
The one run in the first inning proved to be the only run of the day, Escalon taking a 1-0 win to advance to the Section final.
“Nick Warren went the distance, he threw 91 pitches, struck out six and walked two, we played pretty good defense again,” Largent noted. “We mustered only two hits.”
Along with Dutra’s RBI single in the first, Jacob Alvarado had a single in the second inning.
“The offense wasn’t there,” Largent said, adding that the team had just enough to get into the final.
With the offensive struggles continuing on Monday, though, the season came to an end just short of the championship goal.