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Close Contests See One Win For Varsity Cougars
Senior Chapman Mello looks to slash his way to the basket in Friday night Homecoming action against Ripon, leading the Cougars with 19 points on the night. Marg Jackson/The Times

After hitting the first basket of the game – a three-pointer – and taking an early 3-0 lead, the host Escalon Cougar boys saw the varsity Ripon Indians go on an 11-0 run that ate up most of the first quarter on Friday night. The Cougars took a time out to catch their collective breath with 4:16 to play in the opening frame, looking to chip away at the Indian lead in the Escalon Homecoming contest. The host team battled back and were down just 13-10 after one, and were tied with Ripon at the half, 23-23.

The Cougars, with just one win so far in Trans-Valley League play, coming on a buzzer beater Tuesday night at home against Hilmar, looked to make it two in a row but ultimately fell just a little short against the Indians.

The home team, with a fast-paced style of play, took the lead late in the third quarter Friday night as Chapman Mello sank the shot and got fouled, going to the line for a pair of free throws with 10 seconds to play in the third and putting his team up 39-35.

Head coach Martin Louro said he was happy to see his team have that slight edge going into the final frame, but disappointed they couldn’t find a way to put the game in the win column. Ripon came back and got the victory, 53-49.

Ripon used an 18-10 scoring edge over the final eight minutes to steal the win.

“It was Homecoming and it was a heck of a night,” said Louro. “The freshman game was a close one, the JV team won it at the buzzer and we had a chance at the end.”

Louro said it was the second close game in a row for his team and they have to find a way to get the wins instead of letting the momentum swing to their opponents as time winds down.

“I think we have had the lead going into the fourth quarter in four out of our five league games,” he said. “Finding a way to close a game out has been a real Achilles heel.”

The Cougars ended the first round of TVL action with one win and four losses and are 10-12 overall.

“When we should be digging in, we seem to let up,” Louro said. “The first four minutes of the fourth quarter, we were a step slower than we had been all game.”

Mello paced the team with 19 points and Marvin Lawrence added 15. Caleb Hansen and Sam Lattig had four points each. Lattig went down late in the first quarter with an ankle injury and got back in the second half for some limited action, but was kept to just four points.

One Ripon player hit for 28 points, the Cougars unable to find a way to contain sophomore guard Aaron Paschini, who paced the Indians in the win.

And while Friday’s loss on Homecoming was tough, the Cougars did give the crowd their money’s worth and also took the court for a thriller against Hilmar on Tuesday, Jan. 27.

“We were down by five points with 20 seconds to play,” Louro said of pulling out the victory in that contest. “Chapman drove in, Kevin Gregorio set a good screen and Chapman hit a tough shot.”

That cut the deficit to two, and on their last possession, after Mello pulled down the rebound, he sent a cross court pass to Lawrence, who dished it to an uncovered Vincent Bacay at the top of the key.

“He’s a good shooter, he had a good look and he made the shot,” Louro said of Bacay netting the game-winning 3-point shot at the buzzer to defeat the Yellowjackets.

Mello again was the leader on the scoreboard with 19 points, Lattig had 14. Gregorio added nine points and Bacay put in eight as the Cougars put their first TVL win on the books for the season.

“It’s hard to say we’re worse than anyone in the league,” Louro said, noting that they have taken mostly single digit losses in league. “We just have to get the next one. A 5-5 record might be the third place team in this league.”

The Cougars were scheduled to travel to Riverbank to start the second half of league play on Tuesday, after The Times went to press and will be back home to host Hughson on Friday, Feb. 6.