Maybe it was the fact that it was Senior Night. Maybe it was because it was a Friday and there was a pretty vocal student cheering section. Maybe it was because they just wanted to win their last game at home. Whatever 'it' was, it was a difference maker for the varsity Lady Cougars, as they won their home basketball finale on Friday night, defeating Hilmar by a 50-46 score. They built up a big early lead and had to withstand a comeback by the Yellowjackets, finally getting a clutch free throw from senior Kaitlin DaDalt to go up by four and ensuring that a 3-pointer wouldn't send the game into overtime.
"We played with energy we had been lacking all season," said head coach Joseph Dalpogetti. "Up 30-17 at the half, I felt it could have been more, that we left some easy baskets out there."
After Hilmar outscored Escalon 13-10 in the third period, the Lady Cougars still maintained a 10-point lead, 40-30, going into the final frame. Hilmar, like their namesake Yellowjackets, continued to buzz around the court and could not be swatted down.
Second half fouls were also off kilter, but luckily for Escalon, the visiting Hilmar squad did not fare well from the free throw line.
"There were 24 free throws in the second half for Hilmar, they went 10-for-24," pointed out Dalpogetti. "We shot four."
One of those came from DaDalt, who ended the night with 22 points. Judzaya Davis put in 10 and Kaitlyn Kelly chipped in five points but also played outstanding defense.
"She's one of the best rebounding guards I've seen," Dalpogetti said.
Earlier in the week, the girls were on the road at Hughson and lost that Feb. 4 contest by a 59-41 verdict.
"We came out very flat, we were not getting back on defense," the coach noted, with Hughson taking a 16-3 lead after one quarter. "We were down 18-3 at one point and they scored off fast breaks, rebounds and steals."
Making some adjustments after the first quarter, Escalon stayed with the host Huskies the rest of the way, but couldn't come back from the early deficit.
"They were playing with a purpose," Dalpogetti said of Hughson battling for playoff position.
Kelly poured in 20 points on the night, including six three-point shots, and Adalia Cajias had seven.
On Friday, the team honored its senior players, their parents and families, for dedication to the program over the years. Seniors recognized were Kaitlin DaDalt, Kaitlyn Kelly, Cassie Kennedy, Judzaya Davis, Illiana Cajias, Adalia Cajias, Sarah Fernandez, Parker Pilati and stat keeper Izamar Flores.
Like Hughson, playing with purpose to start the week, Escalon played with purpose to end strong.
"I was happy for the kids," said Dalpogetti of getting the victory to celebrate Senior Night. "It was a good win."
The girls entered the season finale at Modesto Christian with a 10-15 overall mark and 4-7 in league play.