In what could have been a turning point week to solidify their position for the postseason, Escalon’s varsity basketball boys find themselves now needing to win at least three of four to have a chance of making the playoffs.
They were home for both games this past week, hosting Riverbank on Tuesday and Ripon on Friday. Neither went the Cougars way, and they ended the week with a 4-4 mark in Trans-Valley League play.
“It was a tough week,” agreed head coach Martin Louro. “I thought if we could get one, we would be in great shape. The Riverbank game was a little disappointing; I thought we came out timid. They were clearly the aggressor in the first half, we looked like we were on our heels.”
Down 13-6 after one, 32-14 at the half, Louro said his players did turn up their aggressiveness over the third and fourth quarters and outscored the Bruins, 41-37 over the final two periods. It wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit, though, as the Cougars lost a 69-55 decision.
“We were down in the third quarter, as many as 23 points again but then we finally started getting aggressive and cut into that lead, we cut it to eight points, and had a chance to cut it to six with an easy lay-up, the pass was made but the ball went out of bounds,” Louro said.
When the Cougars saw the ball go out of bounds instead of into the player’s hands on the run for the lay-up, the coach said that seemed to break the momentum that the home team had worked so hard to regain. If they had made that lay-up and cut the lead to six points – with three minutes remaining in the game – the coach said he feels that might have made the difference in the contest. Instead, they had to start fouling the Bruins. The visitors were 23-for-28 in free throws in the game, including 12-for-14 in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“The free throw line has been an issue for us all year but this last week it was atrocious,” admitted Louro.
Escalon was 9-of-17 from the line, just 3-of-10 in the fourth quarter.
“The first half we got outplayed, outhustled, out-everythinged,” Louro said. “I feel in the second half we outplayed them.”
Caleb Hansen had 20 points for the Cougars, Tommy Pangan added 10. Trent Avilla scored eight, Sam Lattig seven and Trevor Weinbrecht had six.
“Teams are starting to key on Tommy a little bit,” Louro said of adjustments the other TVL teams have made for the second round. “Caleb is having a real good second half, but down the stretch we are going to need some other people to really step up, too.”
Friday’s rivalry game against Ripon had it all – a huge crowd, a tense game, a chance for either team to win. But it came down to those free throw attempts and Ripon made more of theirs, taking the win.
“I thought it was a great game, one of those games that could have gone either way,” Louro said. “Unfortunately we just didn’t get any breaks; all the breaks seemed to go their way. At the free throw line, we both shot 32, they made 22 but we only made 17, had we made 22 we would have had the lead in the fourth, and not have to foul them.”
Louro also noted that he felt some of the Ripon players were undisciplined on the court, shoulder checking his players on dead balls, doing some taunting during free throws – behavior he said he won’t tolerate in his players – and behavior he did not let them retaliate for on the court.
“They (Ripon) probably should have had four technicals that night,” Louro said. “I am not going to blame the refs, we still had a lead in the last couple of minutes and we let that slip away.
“We still had plenty of opportunities to win that game and we just didn’t do it.”
Final score was 64-54 Ripon, with the Indians leading 14-13 after one, 34-32 at the half. Escalon outscored them 14-10 in the third to take a 46-44 lead into the final frame, but Ripon had a 20-8 run – helped out by some free throws down the stretch – in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Hansen had 16 points in the loss, Pangan and Lattig each scored 12. Weinbrecht added seven and played a solid game for the Cougars.
At 4-4 in league, Louro said the Cougars remain in third place, and have already had their bye. Realistically, said Louro, they need to win out to guarantee a playoff spot but could get in with three out of four, depending on what other teams in the league do.
“We are capable of doing it, but every team is good enough to beat everybody on any given night,” Louro said.
Escalon was slated to travel to Ripon Christian on Tuesday, Feb. 9 after The Times went to press for the first of their four final TVL games. They host Hilmar on Senior Night on Thursday, Feb. 11; go to Hughson on Friday, Feb. 12 and play at Mountain House on Tuesday, Feb. 16.
“It’s going to be a fun finish,” Louro said.