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League Split Keeps Cougars In Contention
Varsity Basketball Boys
Varsity player Trent Avilla, 22, at left, goes up to disrupt the shot attempt of a Ripon Christian opponent in earlier season action. Also in on the defensive stop is Garrett Nebe, 55. The Cougars got a split of games this week, topping Hughson but losing to Hilmar. Marg Jackson/The Times


It was another up and down week for Escalon’s varsity basketball boys, as they won at home but lost on the road. They ended the week with a 3-2 league mark, still in the thick of things but needing to find more consistency on the court.

“Every night will be a grind,” head coach Martin Louro said of battling it out against other Trans-Valley League teams, noting the parity of squads up and down the schedule. “Our effort level has been amazing, I can’t fault that.”

In action on the home court Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Cougars were 67-60 winners over visiting Hughson.

“We led most of the game, then they came back and took the lead with about four minutes left,” explained Louro.

Escalon had a 14-11 edge after the first quarter and 38-31 at the half. Hughson was a couple of points better, 11-9, in the third to trim the Cougar lead to 47-42 entering the final frame.

Hanging on to the slim lead, the Cougars did see the Huskies come back and go up but they had enough time to “right the ship” and get the job done, said Louro.

“We got serious and made it happen,” the coach said of outscoring Hughson 20-18 over the final eight minutes to secure the seven-point win.

“Tommy Pangan had a 30-point night,” Louro said of his scoring leader for the contest. “Sam Lattig had a 19-point night and Garrett Nebe had eight points.”

The Cougars can typically count on solid point production out of Pangan, Lattig and Caleb Hansen, Louro added, but need more consistent scoring from the other players to stay competitive.

“They will be tough at home,” Louro predicted of having to face the Huskies in their own gym in the second round.

On Friday, the Cougars hit the road for a game at Hilmar and again, battled tough against the Yellowjackets and kept it a close game. Ultimately, though, they fell by a 50-47 final, the home team winning it on a buzzer-beating shot at the end to emerge victorious for their Homecoming.

“We played pretty well defensively, we just didn’t execute down the stretch,” admitted Louro. “We left 15 to 25 points on the table, chip shots that we missed, uncontested at the basket shots, we just can’t afford to leave that many on the table.”

Escalon started out well, taking a 12-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. Hilmar outscored them in the second, leading it 21-19 at the break. A strong third quarter for the Cougars saw them go up 33-31 entering the final frame. But Hilmar put in 19 points in the fourth quarter to Escalon’s 11, walking off with the win.

“We were up by five with about five minutes to play, then they went on a 9-0 run,” said Louro. “We were up 40-35, after that run they went up 44-40. We tied it at 44-44.”

The Cougars went up from there, 47-44, but that was as much as they could muster and though Louro said he felt that the game would go to OT after Hilmar tied it late, the final inbounds play with 1.9 seconds left saw the Yellowjackets hit the winning bucket.

“We’re still making unforced errors,” the coach explained. “There’s a bit of uneasiness still, I think maybe they’re still not 100 percent sure we can be a good team.”

The coach said with the effort the team gives each night, they just need to find some secondary scoring and be confident in their ability.

“We tightened up,” the coach admitted of not being able to hang on to the lead in the road game.

Pangan paced the team with 27 points, Hansen added 13 to account for the bulk of the scoring for the Cougars.

“We only had three other players score,” said Louro. “Sam Lattig had three points, Luga Mendoza had two, Trevor Weinbrecht had two.”

Hilmar went 12-for-19 at the free throw line; Escalon went 6-for-12.

“It was a tough loss,” Louro added. “I think we played better than they did, we just need to find a little more balance.”

Ripon Christian was leading the league at 5-0 following Friday’s contests, followed by Ripon at 4-1 and the Cougars at 3-2. Escalon was scheduled to host Mountain House in a Tuesday night game, Jan. 26, after The Times went to press. Louro said his team is working toward making the playoffs and, with a focus on consistency in the second round, has a good chance of achieving that goal.

They have a bye on Friday, Jan. 29 to close out the first round, then will be in action Tuesday, Feb. 2 at home hosting Riverbank to kick off second round TVL play.