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Varsity Cougars Winless For First Half Of TVL Hoops
Varsity Cougar Nic Lattig battles for the rebound on Friday night against Mountain House. The varsity squad came up short, a tough fourth quarter leading to a victory for the visitors on Homecoming Night in Escalon. Marg Jackson/The Times

The fourth quarter has become the Achilles Heel.

Recent games for the varsity basketball Cougar boys have been within reach as they look for their first Trans-Valley League victory of the season – but a fourth quarter letdown has proven to be the difference in their last two contests. That included the Friday night, Jan. 19 Homecoming game hosting the Mountain House Mustangs.

“We just can’t seem to close games out,” admitted head coach Martin Louro.

The Cougars opened the week on the road, playing at Hilmar on Tuesday, Jan. 16 and took a 45-42 lead into the final frame.

“We took a couple of injuries in that fourth quarter that may or may not have affected the outcome,” Louro added. “Either way, we have to close it out.”

Hilmar roared back to score 15 points in the final frame to Escalon’s seven, the host team taking a 57-52 win.

The game was a battle, as Hilmar had an 18-12 lead after one quarter and the teams went into the half knotted at 31-31. With a 14-11 run in the third, Escalon got the lead but could not hold off the Yellowjackets down the stretch.

“It’s like during the last four, five minutes of a game we tighten up and we quit playing the way we had been that got us the lead in the first place,” said the coach.

For the game, Estephan Salcedo paced the Cougars with 14 points. Sahil Prasad scored 12 and Nic Lattig also had 12, as well as providing some stellar defense.

“He did a great job on their big guy, he had his best game of the season,” Louro said.

Friday, the varsity Cougars were back on the home court, hosting the Mustangs for the Winter Homecoming game.

Escalon had a 13-11 lead after one quarter of play, with Mountain House taking the second quarter by a 16-12 edge and leading Escalon 27-25 at the half.

Coming out from the break a determined group, the Cougars battled back into it.

“At one point in the third quarter I thought we were going to extend the lead,” Louro admitted. “But we didn’t do it.”

Mountain House kept the pressure on and had a 44-39 lead entering the final quarter, the game still well within reach for the host Cougars.

“We scored 18 in the fourth quarter … they scored 29,” Louro said of Mountain House claiming a 73-57 victory to spoil the Homecoming party.

“The final margin was 16 points but it was a much closer game than that,” noted Louro. “Again there was a point there where we just quit playing the way we’re capable of … in the fourth quarter we just seem to revert.”

Escalon completed the first round of TVL play with the Friday night game against the Mustangs and went 0-6 through the first six games. Louro said the team is definitely capable of getting some second round wins, they just have to play for the full 32-minute contest.

“That’s what we’ll focus on in the second half,” the coach said of putting together a complete effort each time out on the court.

Against Mountain House, Salcedo had 20 points, Brad DaDalt put in 14 and Prasad had 13.

Escalon will have to be good road warriors to get some victories in the second round, as they will be traveling for four of the six games. They start the second half of TVL action on the road Friday night, Jan. 26 playing at Riverbank.

Home games in the second round will see the Cougars hosting Ripon and Hilmar.