A three game winning streak to end the first half came to an abrupt end Friday night, Jan. 31 as the Escalon varsity Cougars boys basketball team dropped their Homecoming contest.
They hosted the Riverbank Bruins in a pivotal Trans-Valley League match, both teams battling for a spot in the playoffs.
The final score was 44-36 in favor of the Bruins, who beat the Cougars for the second time this season.
“Their defense just shut us down in the fourth quarter,” explained Escalon head coach Nate Bartelink. “They focused on Brenden Holmes in the fourth and our lack of balance hurt us.”
Escalon had just four players score in the contest, Holmes putting in 17 points on the night. Russell Weinbrecht had 12 so the two big men combined for 29 of the team’s 36 points.
“Dylan Ruiz had five points and took a charge, Colton Panero had two points and took a charge,” Bartelink said. “Considering the crowd we had, the fact that it was Homecoming and what was at stake, second place in the TVL, it was disappointing.”
Escalon didn’t have much time to reflect on the loss, though, as they had to prepare for a road game at Ripon Christian on Tuesday, Feb. 4 after The Times went to press. The Cougars bested the Knights earlier in the season and Bartelink said he knows the RC team will be looking to get some revenge on the home court.
The road doesn’t get any easier after that, with a home game Thursday, Feb. 6 against a tough Ripon team and then a game on the road Friday, Feb. 7 at Livingston.
In the game against Riverbank for Homecoming, the host Cougars were up by a 12-8 score after one quarter and held a slim lead, 23-19, at the half.
“We missed quite a few first half shots,” Bartelink said of being unable to pull away by more than a few points at the break. “I was hoping some of those shots would start falling in the second half but they just didn’t.”
For the game, the Cougars were just 3-of-25 from 3-point range and, again, had just four players on the score sheet.
“Our defense was solid and kept us in the game,” said Bartelink.
Riverbank outscored Escalon 11-7 in the third quarter so the tams were knotted, 30-30, entering the final frame. That’s where the Bruins found their groove, outscoring the host team 14-6 over the final eight minutes to spoil the Homecoming party.
“We can’t dwell on what happened, there is still a lot to play for and I know the kids will keep playing hard,” Bartelink said.
With Ripon losing to Hilmar, there is still a jumble of teams angling for playoff spots so the coach said the squad needs to stay focused on each game as it comes.
For the JV boys, in their only game of the week as well, they lost by one point to Riverbank in Friday night action. The back and forth, hard fought battle saw DeSean Owens knock down a crowd-pleasing three at the buzzer for the JV Cougars but it wasn’t quite enough as they fell by a 54-53 final.
The youngest Cougars did get a Friday night win for Homecoming, outscoring the freshman Bruins 46-40 and getting solid efforts from a number of players in the win. The frosh boys were paced by Julian Borrego with 11 points and Seth Britton provided the squad with an all-around solid effort.