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Varsity Baseball Boys Battling League Opponents
Shortstop Caleb Mullen comes in to cover second base on a steal attempt, with the Orestimba player sliding in safely during Friday afternoon action. Escalon won, 7-0. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

For the first time in a long time, the Escalon varsity baseball team was in a ‘must win’ situation in league play.

In danger of falling to a 2-4 mark in the first round of Trans-Valley League action, the Cougars found a way to win on Friday, defeating visiting Orestimba to pull even at 3-3 as they closed out the first half.

The young squad, said head coach Greg Largent, has struggled at times defensively, hasn’t always been able to come through with the big hit when needed, but continues to work hard and show improvement.

After a rain out on Wednesday, the varsity team traveled to Orestimba for a Thursday, April 3 game.

“We took a tough 3-1 loss,” said Largent. “We took the early lead, 1-0.”

In the top of the first, Owen Pangilinan walked and stole second and, after two strikeouts, senior Luis Estrada came through with an RBI single to give the Cougars the lead.

But it also would be their only run of the game.

“Robby Rickman started and had his best outing of the year, the first three innings he was perfect,” Largent said. “He gave up three unearned runs, one strikeout, two walks.”

Orestimba got a single to left in the bottom of the fourth and the runner took second on an error. A walk followed, then a bloop single to load the bases.

The host Warriors cashed in with a run on an infield single and then added two more on a botched double play.

“In the sixth, we made some noise with two outs,” Largent said of his team battling back. “Luis walked with two outs and took second on a ball in the dirt. Brandon Grogan then doubled and there was no play at the plate, so we had cut it to 3-2.”

But Orestimba’s pitcher, who had been backing up the catcher for a potential play at the plate, grabbed the ball and went to home, touching the plate, with the umpire ruling Estrada out.

“I contested it,” Largent explained. “But somehow, Luis did miss home plate and he was called out.”

The unusual oversight from one of his senior leaders and steadiest of players kind of capsulized the game, Largent said, with the Cougars unable to take advantage of their opportunities.

“We also ran into Orestimba’s crafty lefty, he had a big breaking ball, struck out 12,” Largent said.

Estrada was 2-for-2 on the day with an RBI, Grogan was 2-for-3, Pangilinan and Garrett Denczek also added hits.

“So that put us in a must-win situation on Friday and we went out and got the 7-0 victory,” Largent said of the satisfying win at home.

The Cougars scored runs in the first, second and third innings, building up a solid lead, and adding some insurance in the sixth.

Denczek walked and stole second in the first, scoring on a Grogan RBI double. Designated hitter, just up from the JV squad, Trevor Van Boven took a walk in the second, Kash Satnat reached on an error, with Adam Roberson getting an RBI singles and Owen Pangilinan contributing with a sacrifice fly. In the third, Grogan singled and stole second, Ben Hood notched an RBI single, as did Van Boven and Roberson. Satnat was hit by a pitch, getting on to keep the inning going.

Consecutive singles from Grogan, Estrada and Hood (RBI) got the Cougars one more run in the sixth.

“Ben pitched a complete game shutout, he threw 74 pitches,” Largent said of a masterful outing by the senior. “He struck out five, didn’t walk anybody, allowed four hits.”

The defense also did good work behind him and the offense came alive.

Grogan was 4-for-4 with a double and RBI; Estrada, 2-for-4; Hood, 3-for-4, RBI; Van Boven, 2-for-3, RBI; Roberson, 3-for-3, double, two RBIs.

“Saturday, we went to play in the Banner Island Classic against Oakdale in Stockton, with all proceeds going to the United Way,” Largent said. “We had the lead after two.”

The Cougars were unable to hang on to that early lead though, up 2-1 against the Mustangs. Oakdale touched them up for 11 runs over the final four innings to take a 12-2 victory. Oakdale had 15 hits, Escalon five.

In the first inning, Owen Pangilinan reached on a double and scored on an error. Escalon’s other run came in the second, with Van Boven getting on with a single, Kevin Gregorio notching a single and Pangilinan getting an RBI ground out.

Jackson Bennett went three innings and gave up four runs, Frankie Warren came on in relief.

“Oakdale is a good hitting team and their coach, Nate Gregory, is a good guy so it’s fun to play them,” Largent said. “We did throw out two runners at the plate, Grogan had a couple of hits for us, Van Boven had another hit.”

Escalon is now 8-6 overall and this week, with games against Hughson to start the second half, will be key.

“This is our season,” Largent said simply, noting that the team needs to get on a winning streak to find its way to the playoffs.

The Cougars host Hughson today, Wednesday, April 9 at 4 p.m. and are scheduled to play at Hughson on Friday.