At Mountain House, the last game of the league campaign was a frustrating loss for Escalon.
“Unfortunately we went up there, lost by one point, 69-68,” explained head coach Martin Louro of the Tuesday, Feb. 16 contest. “That was 30 more points than we allowed them to score at our place.”
Earlier in the season, Escalon crushed the visiting Mustangs, 69-39. This time, said Louro, there just didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency for his players.
“We weren’t really focused, not to take anything away from Mountain House, they have some skilled players but if we play defense at all like we are capable of playing, they aren’t going to put 69 points on us,” Louro said.
The coach said he isn’t sure if it was because they had already clinched a playoff berth that perhaps his players let down some, but Mountain House was quick to capitalize on the opportunity.
“We let them get easy shots,” added Louro. “We put everybody in there, nobody seemed to want to step up.”
The lax defense allowed the Mustangs to get the win, though a last second shot by Escalon had the range but bounced out of the bucket instead of going through the net.
Mountain House had a 20-13 lead after one, 33-31 at the half.
Escalon was a few points better, 16-12, in the third quarter and actually took the lead, 47-45, going into the final frame.
“We just couldn’t hold it,” Louro said of the lead, with the teams battling back and forth, trading the lead throughout the final eight minutes.
Mountain House ended up with a 24-21 scoring advantage in the last quarter to nail down the 69-68 win.
“We battled to take the lead back with 20 seconds to play, they got fouled with eight seconds left and made both free throws to go up by one, we had a great look at the buzzer, but it bounced out,” Louro said.
The varsity Cougar boys ended with a 6-6 mark in Trans-Valley League play; they were 12-15 overall.
“We knew we had clinched the playoffs, and I’m not sure if they took Mountain House lightly because we beat them the last time,” Louro added. “We played great that (first) game and when we play well, we are pretty good. When we don’t, we’re average and we looked very, very average Tuesday night.”
Four players did hit double figures, as the Cougars didn’t have trouble scoring against the Mustangs, paced by Sam Lattig with 19 points, Trent Avilla with 13, Caleb Hansen with 12 and Tommy Pangan with 11. Garrett Nebe chipped in with eight points on the night.
“We scored 68 points and lost, that should never happen unless you are playing a powerhouse school,” Louro said.
Luckily, he added, the loss in the league finale didn’t seem to impact the seeding, with the Cougars getting the 12 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
“We go play Summerville, the five seed,” Louro said.
The teams will meet in first round playoff action tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 24 at Summerville with tipoff at 7 p.m.
“We like the draw, we lost to Summerville earlier in the year, and it was a two-point game until the last few minutes when we had to foul them, it turned out to be about a 10-point game,” Louro said. “They are big and we sometimes struggle with big teams but we feel like we are pretty evenly matched.”
The Bears were Mother Lode League champions, going 11-1 in league play and losing only a 68-67 decision to Argonaut. They were 21-6 overall.
“We feel like we couldn’t have gotten a better draw,” Louro said, adding that if you aren’t in the top of the bracket and get a home game, the 12 seed offers a favorable match up if you make it to the second round, taking on the winner of the 4-13 contest as opposed to one of the top three teams.
Mesa Verde is the four seed in the division; San Juan is the number 13.
“We are devising a game plan, we feel we have a decent chance,” Louro said. “If we shoot well and keep them off the glass, we should be right there.”
A win in the first round would give Escalon a Friday night game, Feb. 26 – at Mesa Verde if Mesa Verde gets a win, hosting San Juan if the lower seed wins that opening round match up.
“Summerville is a very good team,” noted Louro. “It’s going to take a great effort to get it done but we do believe it is possible.”
Escalon also, along with making the playoffs, got three players named as All-TVL selections, with seniors Sam Lattig and Caleb Hansen getting the nod in addition to junior Tommy Pangan.
“It is nice when the coaches around the league give you that,” Louro said of having three honorees for the All-TVL team. “Even though we are not necessarily at the top, we are well respected.”