Though they suffered an overtime loss Tuesday and a one-point defeat in regulation on Thursday, it was a Friday home victory that guaranteed Escalon’s varsity basketball girls their first winning season in more than a decade.
Headed into Tuesday night’s finale against Mountain House, the Lady Cougars had a 14-11 overall record, counting preseason, tournament games and Trans-Valley League action. The Feb. 16 game was played after The Times went to press.
Out of the playoffs with a tough go of it in league play, head coach Joseph Dalpogetti said there is still satisfaction in putting together a better than .500 mark. And just like this week, many of the team’s losses in league came by just a handful of points.
Hosting Ripon Christian on Feb. 9, the Lady Cougars fell 57-51 in overtime.
“We actually had a 13-point lead in the third quarter, but we allowed them to cut it to four going into the fourth,” Dalpogetti noted. “We were up by three with nine seconds left in regulation; they got the ball across half court.”
Dalpogetti said his players were cautious not to foul the player, but the RC shooter “hit a tough three at the buzzer” to force overtime.
At that point, the home team was a little gassed.
“We didn’t have much left in the tank, we got outscored 8-2 in overtime,” Dalpogetti said.
Sarah Leal had 15 points to lead Escalon, while Jenelle Anderson was also in double figures with 12.
Thursday the girls were on the road at Hilmar and found themselves in another tight game, this time losing to the host Yellowjackets, 31-30. It was a slow start that doomed the Lady Cougars, and, even though they had a 7-3 scoring edge in the first period, they were outscored 24-6 over the second and third quarters.
“We were down 14 points going into the fourth quarter, we just didn’t bring a lot of energy early,” admitted Dalpogetti.
The girls regrouped, though, and found a way to get back into the contest, slowly chipping away at the lead until they got it to a one possession game.
“We showed some heart, closed the deficit, we missed a shot with about seven seconds left,” the coach said of the comeback attempt falling just short.
Leal was again the team scoring leader, putting in 13 points, and Anderson added eight.
Friday, back on the home court for a game against Hughson, their third game in four nights, the varsity girls took control early and withstood late pressure from the Huskies, winning 61-42. Anderson had an outstanding night, pouring in 25 points to lead Escalon, with Leal also in double figures with 12 points.
“We were up 13-9 after the first quarter, they went on a little run, we were up 30-18 at halftime and up by 18 going into the fourth,” said Dalpogetti. “They started pressing us in the fourth quarter, there were some fouls, the fourth quarter lasted a while … it was a long game.”
The outcome was satisfying, though, as it marked the team’s 14th win of the season and, regardless of the Feb. 16 outcome against Mountain House, guarantees the varsity girls a winning record.
“I was a senior in high school the last time the girls had a winning season,” Dalpogetti noted.
Escalon was also scheduled to recognize its senior players on Tuesday night: Veronica Grajeda, Justine Lawrence, Sarah Leal and Julianna Martinez.
“The first time we lost by a final of 56-50,” Dalpogetti said of the road meeting against the Mustangs earlier this season. “We led the majority of the game until late in the third quarter; they hit nine three’s so we have to defend the line a little bit better.
“We have a considerable size advantage, they have the speed advantage.”
In the Tuesday, Feb. 9 game at home against Ripon Christian, the JV Lady Cougars were held to single digit scoring in every quarter, falling by a 35-23 final. The visiting Knights had the upper hand in each quarter, leading 10-6 after one and 16-11 at the half. The visitors were a point better than Escalon, 7-6, in the third quarter and doubled up the JV girls, 12-6, in the fourth to get the win.
Escalon also played at Hilmar on Thursday and hosted Hughson on Friday; results were not available at press time, but look for a recap in the Feb. 24 issue of The Times.