It was a close game throughout – host Amador just had a little more at the end than Escalon, sending the Cougars to a first round loss in the Division IV basketball playoffs.
Escalon entered the Sac-Joaquin Section tourney as the number 11 seed, after taking third place in the Trans-Valley League. Amador got to host the game, courtesy of their number 6 seed position. The Cougars headed out on the road to face the Buffaloes on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
“We were right there,” head coach Nate Bartelink said of the ultimate 60-55 loss for his squad. “We came out real aggressive, we scored on our first four or five possessions.”
Escalon had a 17-14 lead after the first quarter, but Bartelink said eight of the Amador points came on offensive rebounds.
“I think we could have had a bigger lead,” the coach noted, if the team had been a bit stronger on the boards, but he still was pleased with a road lead.
The Cougars equaled their point total in the second quarter and took a 34-29 lead into the locker room at the half.
“The kids did a good job of sticking to the game plan and we were satisfied, having a five-point lead at the half,” Bartelink said.
However, the senior-heavy Amador team made some adjustments during the break and were able to outscore Escalon 31-21 over the final two quarters to take the win. Amador’s top two players, a pair of guards, combined for 31 points on the night.
“In the third quarter they flipped it, outscored us 16-11 so it was a tie game going into the fourth quarter,” explained the coach. “Unfortunately, our offense went a little stagnant in the fourth, we missed some shots that had been falling earlier, we missed shots on good looks while they made them.”
Amador won the fourth quarter, 15-10, taking the victory.
“I told the guys, you win a quarter, you win a playoff game,” said Bartelink of his pepe talk entering the final frame. “But there was some fatigue, some heavy legs for guys that had played most of the game ... they played extremely hard and I’m very proud of the boys.”
This was Escalon’s first appearance in the postseason in several years.
Russell Weinbrecht had 21 points to lead the effort, followed by Brenden Holmes with 15. Ty Harris had eight points, 14 rebounds and six assists; Colton Panero had six points; Dylan Ruiz added five to round out the scoring.
Despite the first round loss, Bartelink said the team had plenty to be proud of and to build on from the campaign.
“Third place in league, a number 11 seed, I am proud of the steps the program took forward this season,” the coach pointed out. “We will miss our seniors, they did a lot of good things for this program but it will be up to our returners and the JV kids moving up to put in the work during the offseason to keep moving forward.”
With the return to the playoffs and a real chance to get a win at Amador, Bartelink said it was a little bittersweet to end the season on a losing note. The Cougars compiled an overall record of 17-12 for the year.
“They could tell how close they were so they were disappointed,” Bartelink admitted of the team bowing out in the first round. “But that can keep them motivated.”