Starting a three-game week with an overtime non-league contest win, Escalon’s varsity basketball boys then won at home but lost on the road to open up Trans-Valley League play 1-1.
Monday, Jan. 3 they hosted Chavez of Stockton and escaped with a 62-57 overtime victory.
“Before the game, we were able to honor three-year varsity starter Russell Weinbrecht for scoring 1,000 career varsity points, which he achieved in a previous road game. It was great being able to recognize him for all of his hard work over the years and his amazing accomplishments on the court,” said head coach Nate Bartelink. “Scoring 1,000 varsity points does not happen very often and is a benchmark of a high level scorer. Our boys’ basketball program has only had three players join this exclusive club in the last 30 years. Russ has always been a great scorer, but he has topped himself this year, becoming even more of an offensive force, being able to score from the outside and the inside consistently, while averaging almost 23 points per game.”
Bartelink also classified Weinbrecht as one of the area’s best perimeter shooters.
“Off the court, Russ is a high quality person, with great character and he also achieves at a high level in the classroom. It’s been an honor to coach him and our program has been very fortunate to have him as a member.”
During the game, the varsity squad also welcomed back senior transfer Joey Fross who had to sit out until Jan. 1 due to CIF SJS transfer rules. He has been able to practice with the team the entire season.
“We were excited to see how it translated to game action. He is a very dynamic, talented player. I give him credit for practicing hard for two months without the rewards of game action,” said Bartelink. “He came out in his first game with a bang; with a lot of energy, scoring 12 of our team’s 15 first quarter points, which ignited our team. He ended up with a game high 25 points with four three-pointers.”
Chavez proved to be a scrappy and the Cougars couldn’t put them away easily. Costly turnovers helped fuel a Chavez comeback and it took a Weinbrecht free throw to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“I told the team given how poorly we played in the fourth quarter, consider the opportunity for overtime as a gift and to not waste it. This was our fourth overtime game of the season, giving us some experience in these tense moments,” noted the coach. “We cleaned things up in the overtime period and came away with the victory. We are now 3-1 in overtime games this season.”
Fross had 25 points and seven rebounds; Weinbrecht added 19 points and eight rebounds; Jack Anderson added seven points; Donovan Rozevink six.
Wednesday, Jan. 5 Escalon welcomed in the Riverbank Bruins for the TVL opener and roared their way past the visitors for a lopsided 77-39 win.
“I am always nervous opening up league play against them. They are always well coached and get the most out of their talent,” Bartelink said of facing off first with the Bruins. “We started out the game playing at an extremely high level, leading to a 21-4 advantage. We had a defensive game plan to hopefully limit their three best scorers and our guys executed it very well. Our defense definitely fueled our offense.”
Escalon held each of their top three scorers, who average double figure points per game, to single digits.
“DeSean Owens did a great job as one of the primary defenders, along with a combination of Joey Fross, Logan Anderson, Ben Fletcher, Cam Ruiz and Julian Borrego,” Bartelink explained. “We had good offensive balance with four players in double figures and a lot of other contributions up and down the line-up. The very convincing victory was a great way to start out league. The energy in the gym from the home crowd was exactly what we were hoping for.”
Weinbrecht had 22 points and 12 rebounds; Jack Anderson 16 points; Joey Fross 14 points; DeSean Owens 10 points.
Friday, Jan. 7 the boys were on the road for a TVL contest at Ripon Christian, losing 61-53.
“Playing Ripon Christian is always a tremendous challenge. They have size that you cannot simulate in practice, they are fundamentally sound, and they execute well. On top of that, this particular game was their Homecoming so they had the large crowd on their side,” said Bartelink. “I thought we had a good game plan going in, but unfortunately we did not execute it well enough. Looking back, ultimately our poor first quarter was the difference, as we won the last three quarters by a point.”
The coach said his team simply came out a little too amped up, trying to do too much, and not settling in to the game offensively. That saw them with some early turnovers and early forced shots, resulting in a 17-8 deficit after one quarter.
“We battled the rest of the game, but every time we got the lead to four to six points, RC would hit a timely shot to extend the lead. Give them credit for that,” Bartelink said. “We were trying to do a few things to make it difficult on their best scorers, but on two different occasions, we missed the assignment and one of them got open for a three and hit it.”
Ripon Christian utilized a total team approach to get the win and Bartelink said the size of the Knights made it difficult for the Cougars to convert shot opportunities around the basket.
“We had our second lowest point total of the season. We didn’t have enough offensive balance that generally has been our recipe for success,” added the coach. “The loss is disappointing, but we need to move on and we’ll get another shot at them in three weeks.”
Despite the loss, Weinbrecht and Fross each had 20 points, while Weinbrecht had seven rebounds and Fross added five. Jack Anderson contributed seven points.
Escalon’s varsity finished the week at 11-6 overall, 1-1 in TVL; currently ranked No. 8 in the MaxPreps CIF SJS Division IV rankings.
Going 2-1 for the week, the JV Cougars started out with a decisive 55-28 non-league win over Chavez on Monday, Jan. 3. Ryan Lewis put in 20 points. They then continued the streak with a league win on Wednesday.
Hosting Riverbank, it was a 50-44 Cougar victory over the JV Bruins in the TVL opener, holding off the hard-charging visitors late in the game and converting on some key free throws down the stretch to secure the win. Ethan Garza paced the JV in that game, leading the scoring.
On the road Friday, it was a 54-40 loss to Ripon Christian, so the JV boys closed out the week with a 10-6 overall record, 1-1 in league play.
Monday against Chavez, the youngest Cougar boys took a 38-19 loss.
Bartelink took over coaching duties for the freshmen this week, filling in for first year head coach Steve Largent.
“We did not play with much energy on either end. Chavez’s defense made it tough on us to generate quality shot attempts,” Bartelink said of the contest. “The lack of energy on defense did not help us get anything in transition.”
Dom Arauza had seven points on the night; Ryan Murphy and Daniel Gonzalez added four points apiece.
Wednesday hosting Riverbank, it was a 36-23 win for the freshmen to open up TVL play.
“It was a good response after a disappointing loss to Chavez on Monday and a good way to start out league. The intensity was there from the start,” said Bartelink. “We moved better on offense and the defense was more engaged. I was satisfied with how the guys played.”
Gonzalez was in double figures to lead the team with 10; Murphy and Nathan Belletto each had six as the frosh boys built up a 22-13 lead at the half and stayed a few points better than the Bruins over the third and fourth quarters for the victory.
Rounding out the busy week, it was a 46-33 loss at Ripon Christian on Friday, Jan. 7.
“We played these guys just over a week ago in our tournament and lost by a large margin so we knew they were going to be difficult to play against. We tried to mix defenses early, but unfortunately our offense could not get going,” noted Bartelink. “We turned it on in the second half and cut the deficit to seven points late in the fourth quarter. We then proceeded to turn the ball over on three straight possessions, which led to three easy baskets for RC and we couldn’t get any closer.”
But the battle was one that Bartelink said ultimately was a good one, the Escalon players refusing to give in.
“I was proud of the guys for continuing to fight until the end, and performing much better than they did previously against RC. I’m looking forward to seeing further progress when we play them again later this month,” he said.
Murphy had a solid night, 10 points including a pair of treys, while Preston Berhorst had eight points and Gonzalez had seven.
The freshmen now have an 11-6 overall record; 1-1 in league.
This week’s schedule has the Cougar teams hosting Ripon on Wednesday, Jan. 12; freshmen and varsity at Livingston on Friday with no JV game on Friday due to JV Livingston quarantine.