Needing to win one of their final two games to claim the Trans-Valley League title, the JV baseball boys ran into a roadblock in the form of the Hilmar Yellowjackets.
The young Cougars dropped both games, ending the league campaign in second place with an 8-2 mark, with Hilmar taking the crown with a 9-1 showing.
“We lost at home on Tuesday but it was a close game through the sixth inning,” said head coach Ken Baptista. “It was 3-1 after six, then they just started to tee off on us, they scored seven in the seventh.”
Trailing 10-1, the host JV boys did not go quietly, battling in their final at bat.
“We came back and scored four in the seventh,” said Baptista, adding that the team ran out of hits and took a 10-5 loss. “Their pitcher pitched very well, we just did not have many base runners.”
Highlight of the afternoon was the bottom of the seventh grand slam by Cole Gilbert, who was 2-for-4 on the day with four runs batted in. Anthony LaRossa also was 2-for-4.
“Anthony got the start and took the loss, he went five innings and struck out eight but he just had no run support,” Baptista said.
On the road at Hilmar on Wednesday, the teams went into the contest tied atop the standings, both at 8-1. Hilmar, by virtue of a 10-8 win that day, ended Escalon’s hopes for a JV championship season.
Gilbert got the start and went just three-and-a-third innings. The bullpen was taxed, said Baptista, but had to take over and Hilmar took advantage of some tired Cougar arms.
Hilmar scored in the first, Escalon answered in the second, with Hilmar taking the lead with three runs in the fourth. Escalon got two back in the fifth and tied it at 4-4 in the fourth.
“They scored six in the bottom of the sixth,” Baptista said of the home team taking a 10-4 lead.
Again, the resilient JV boys mounted a comeback, refusing to go down without a fight.
“With two outs, we scored four runs in the seventh,” Baptista noted of his squad, ultimately taking the 10-8 loss. “This game we hit the ball hard, but often right at them, we didn’t get many breaks.”
Key hits in the contest were a home run from Gilbert, who was 2-for-2 in the game, and a bases loaded double from Austin Terra.
“We had a runner at second and the tying run at the plate in the seventh, but hit into a ground out,” the coach added of fighting until the final out.
Escalon had an outstanding season, with the 8-2 league record and finishing at 15-10 overall.
“The kids worked really hard,” noted Baptista.
He added that the Cougars hit just .257 as a team this year and had only four players that hit above .200.
Add to that, the fact that they were outscored 178 to 168 in their games and had a team ERA of 5.26, he said the squad made the most of their opportunities.
“We still had the tying run up in our last game,” he said. “We battled, they did a lot of growing up this season and I think I was most proud of this team, they’re already looking forward to summer ball. We had 12 freshmen and they got a lot of experience … I’m looking forward to next year.”