After one scrimmage with Ripon Christian, which constituted their entire preseason, the Escalon varsity baseball team took the field for two games this past week.
Playing in the Valley Oak League this season, it was a two-game set with Weston Ranch, on the road March 30 and home on April 1.
“We are so far behind,” admitted head coach Greg Largent, noting that the team never had the chance to play a month of summer baseball, which they normally do, because of the COVID restrictions.
However, he added, all teams are in the same boat and are trying to find their way back to playing solid ball after more than a year off.
“We went to Weston Ranch on Tuesday and we lost 9-3,” Largent said.
The loss came despite a strong outing from junior Josh Miller, a lefty who pitched a good game, but didn’t get the back-up he needed from his defense.
“We had some dropped pop-ups, threw away a double play ball,” explained Largent. “Josh did a great job.”
Five of the seven runs Miller gave up were earned, then freshman Wyatt Cox came on to pitch two-and-two thirds innings, with one walk, two hits and two runs allowed. Orion Hoover threw a third of an inning.
Weston Ranch does not have a junior varsity team, so the Escalon Cougars were able to expand their roster and use some of their JV players in the contest.
Visiting Escalon did start out the game with a leadoff double from Miller, then Cameron Ruiz put down a sacrifice bunt. But they were unable to get Miller home.
The host Weston Ranch Cougars scored three in the first, then Escalon battled back with two in the top of the third to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Miller and Ruiz got on with back-to-back walks with two outs. Cam Maruyama singled to drive in a run and the second Escalon run came in on an error.
“Weston Ranch answered right back with three in the bottom of the third and they added one in the fourth,” Largent said of the host team going up 7-2.
In Escalon’s sixth inning, pinch hitter Greg Adams walked and Pablo Macias went in to pinch run. He came in to score on a Maruyama RBI single to make it 7-3.
Weston Ranch added two more in the bottom of the sixth and Escalon went quietly in the seventh to take the 9-3 loss.
Escalon had four hits on the day; Miller had a double, Evan Bava had a single and Maruyama was 2-for-4 with two RBI.
Thursday, in a game originally set for a 4 p.m. start, the Cougars of Escalon hosted the Cougars of Weston Ranch to wrap up the ‘home-and-home’ series. The game was moved up because Weston Ranch also had football scheduled for that night – against Ripon – which ultimately was canceled because of positive COVID tests among the Ripon team.
Regardless, the baseball game was moved to 2:30 p.m. and Escalon turned the tables on Weston Ranch, taking an 11-1 win off the field in six innings.
Jumping in front early, Ruiz singled in the bottom of the first and moved to second on a passed ball. Bryce McPherrin reached on an error, Mark Valente walked and Evan Bava drew a bases loaded walk to collect an RBI and put Escalon up 1-0.
“In the fourth, we plated six runs on five walks and an error,” Largent said of extending the lead to 7-0. “They scored one in the sixth on a hit batter, a stolen base and a single.”
That made it 7-1 but the Cougars closed it out in the bottom of the sixth with a four-run uprising to make it 11-1 and win via the 10-run rule.
Orion Hoover singled, Jackson Runnels walked and then it was pinch hitter Macias stepping to the plate.
“He’s a guy you love to have on the team,” Largent said, with Macias always there to help with any field work necessary and offering encouragement to teammates throughout the contest.
Macias ripped a double to drive in Hoover.
“The dugout just went crazy,” Largent said.
Miller then singled to drive in another run and took second on the throw to the plate. An intentional walk to Ruiz loaded the bases, then Maruyama was hit by a pitch, forcing in a run. McPherrin singled to drive in the final run of the game.
“The real story of that game was Bryce,” Largent said. “He’s a three-year starter for us and he was dominant on the mound. He threw six innings, allowed one run, struck out nine, had no walks and hit one batter; all that with just 76 pitches.”
The coach also pointed to excellent work in right field by normal infielder Cameron Ruiz, who made a couple of diving catches for the Cougars and played solid defense all day.
Largent said McPherrin and Mayurama have emerged as the early leaders for the team, working with the younger players, offering support and guidance.
This week, the Cougars were slated to host East Union on Tuesday, April 6 and then go on the road to play the Lancers in Manteca on Thursday, April 8.