Escalon’s four varsity senior girls got the chance to start on Tuesday night, Feb. 16 as they played their final game as Lady Cougars on the basketball court. Though the final score was a 52-48 loss to visiting Mountain House, the senior girls – recognized prior to the game along with their parents – all made contributions.
“I started all the seniors and (junior) Jenelle Anderson,” said head coach Joseph Dalpogetti. “Veronica Grajeda went 2-for-2 from the free throw line and had a steal for a fast break layup, Julianna Martinez had a three-point play, made the shot and the free throw, Sarah Leal had 17 rebounds and five points and Justine Lawrence had 10 points so all the seniors played well.”
Down six at halftime, trailing the visiting Lady Mustangs 22-16, Escalon made some adjustments at half and came out with a much stronger third period, outscoring the visitors 18-9 to take a 34-31 lead into the final frame.
“Justine Lawrence hit a three with no time left in the third to put us up going into the fourth,” said Dalpogetti. “But then we got outscored by seven in the fourth quarter.”
For the game, Anderson and Shelby McCune each had 13 points, followed by Lawrence with 10.
Escalon closed out the Trans-Valley League season with a 3-9 mark but finished 14-12 overall, counting preseason games and tournament play.
“It’s the first winning record since 2006,” Dalpogetti said. “We had a fourth quarter lead in nine of those losses and in four or five of them, we had the lead in the final two minutes.
“We’re still relatively young, Jenelle is a three-year player but she’s a junior, Sarah was our only senior starter.”
The youth, with inexperience closing out games coming into play, also provides a silver lining, in that the team will have players back next season with a solid base and one more year of varsity play under their belt.
“Winning is part of a culture and we just haven’t had that culture here in a long time,” noted Dalpogetti. “Hopefully we took a step forward this season.”
Escalon had a successful preseason and played in three tournaments, battling for the championship in all three. They won the Linden Tournament and took second place in their own Escalon Lions Club Tournament in early December.
Dalpogetti said next year, he will look to line up tougher teams in the preseason schedule to sharpen the players’ skills ahead of league play.
“We need to test ourselves in December, we will try to play some better competition early,” the coach noted.
Though they didn’t make as strong a showing in the TVL as he had hoped, Dalpogetti said he and the players can take some pride in the fact that they finished above .500 and compiled the varsity team’s first winning record in a decade.
Moving forward, he said, they need to focus on closing out games and learning how to win.