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Semifinal win sends Escalon to battle for blue banner
Freshman Ari Velasco stays a step ahead of the Colfax defender on her way toward the basket in the Section title game at UC Davis on Friday, Feb. 23. Velasco had 16 points to lead Escalon, though the girls lost to the defending Division 4 champion Falcons. Marg Jackson/The Times

After a thrilling two-point win on the home court in the Feb. 20 semifinals, Escalon’s number three seed varsity basketball girls headed to UC Davis just a few days later.

The girls, by virtue of their semifinal round win over number seven seed West Campus, 49-47, advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 finals. But standing in their way, the top seed and defending champion Colfax.

The Falcons showed why they took the blue banner last year – their aggressive, fast-paced style of play was just a little too much for Escalon to handle. Though the Lady Cougars gave a valiant effort, and were within striking distance for much of the contest, the Falcons pulled away as the second half wound down, and won their second straight blue banner – and 13th in program history – with a 64-48 victory over Escalon.

With the game played on the larger stage, with seating on all four sides of the court, depth perception seemed to be an issue for Escalon in the early going, with shots they normally make falling short or clanging off the rim.

Colfax, meanwhile, approached the game with a calm demeanor but were aggressive on the court, crashing the boards and forcing Escalon out of its offensive rhythm with an often-smothering defense.

“Nerves, the backdrop of the rim, it could be lots of things,” head coach Joseph Dalpogetti said of the offensive struggles, which saw Escalon manage just seven points in the first quarter. “We tried to do our best to make our gym look as big as possible (for practices), opened the wrestling room doors and stuff like that but … I mean, it’s not a gigantic arena like an NBA one but it’s still definitely different than a high school gym and it was just frustrating to watch us miss so many lay-ups that we’ve been making all year, and it kind of ended up being the separation of the game.”

Still, Escalon trailed just 11-7 after one and were down by eight, 29-21 at halftime.

A technical foul after a shooting foul called on Escalon sent two Colfax players to the free throw line in the closing seconds of the second quarter; they made three out of the four combined shots to extend the lead.

“Even with that fiasco at the end of the first half, I thought we still could have had the lead if we would have made our normal lay-ups, they just weren’t going down for us,” Dalpogetti said. “Colfax, they’re so athletic across the board and obviously that bothered us … really for me, it was a team that looked like a team that’s been here before versus a team that hasn’t been here before.”

Colfax went on to outscore Escalon 17-14 in the third quarter, 18-13 in the fourth for the 64-48 final.

Pacing the Escalon effort were freshman Ari Velasco with 16 points and senior Macie Vickers with 15. Senior Sammy Lang was recognized following the contest as the recipient of the “Pursuing Victory with Honor” award for the Escalon team.

Dalpogetti said he knew there were nerves for his players, never having been to a Section title game before, and they did some visualizations and breathing techniques in the locker room prior to tip off to try to calm those nerves.

“I tried to encourage them to soak in the moment,” added the coach. “Just enjoy it, win or lose, who knows if we’ll ever be here again so just enjoy the moment.”

And though the game didn’t go in the win column, with the Lady Cougars losing just their third game of the season in the Feb. 23 contest, Dalpogetti said the girls were part of history, the first varsity girls basketball team to battle for a Section title.

The Colfax defender gets a hand on Sammy Lang’s shoulder, with Lang drawing the foul here in Friday night action, Feb. 23, at UC Davis. Escalon and Colfax battled for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 crown; Colfax won by a 64-48 final. Marg Jackson/The Times
With her way to the basket blocked by the Falcon defender, senior Macie Vickers looks to force her way inside for the shot attempt. Escalon lost a 64-48 decision to Colfax in the Division 4 championship game. Marg Jackson/The Times
Singing the National Anthem prior to tip off of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 girls basketball championship game was Escalon’s Cortney Ball, who drew a loud ovation for her performance. Marg Jackson/The Times