After a disappointing game on the road Tuesday, the Escalon varsity basketball boys came home to end their season with a satisfying win on Friday.
The split left the squad with a 5-7 record in the Trans-Valley League, just missing the .500 mark and finishing in fourth place, one spot away from the playoffs.
For first year varsity head coach Nate Bartelink, the season was a satisfying one overall, as he said the team worked hard and played each game until the final whistle.
They traveled to Hughson for a Feb. 5 game, falling by a 60-43 final.
“We came out and didn’t show the appropriate respect to our opponent,” admitted Bartelink. “It was their senior night, they played with a lot of energy and we didn’t match it.”
The first quarter was a slim 14-12 edge for Hughson but then the host Huskies poured it in on the second quarter and Escalon did not respond.
“We had three free throws in the second quarter, they outscored us 23-3,” Bartelink said.
That put the Cougars into a 37-15 hole at halftime and though they played a better second half, the deficit was too much to overcome. Hughson outscored Escalon 13-12 in the third; Escalon turned the tables and finished on a 16-10 run but took the loss.
Kam DeWeerd had 15 points and Brenden Holmes added 14.
“It was a disappointing night,” Bartelink added, noting that he felt it was a game the Cougars could have won had they been firing on all cylinders.
“We bounced back on our Senior Night,” he said of the Friday, Feb. 8 game against Hilmar, which also was celebrated as the Winter Homecoming.
Senior players Brad DaDalt, Frank Leal and Sam Fletcher all got to start – the evening featured recognition for the senior players and cheerleaders prior to tip off – and though the game was tight all the way through, it was Escalon that came out on top, 61-58.
Escalon was without senior DeWeerd, unable to play due to disciplinary reasons and Bartelink said those players that were able to take the court came through to get the win.
“The guys rallied, they played real well and I’m proud of the effort we displayed,” the coach said.
Hilmar had a 7-4 lead after one and outscored Escalon 22-19 in the second quarter to take a 29-23 halftime lead.
In the second half, the home team came out determined and started off strong.
“We went on a quick 8-0 run, we went from being down six to being up by two,” Bartelink pointed out.
The third quarter made the difference, as Escalon eventually outscored the Yellowjackets 25-15 in that frame, leading it 48-44 after three. Hilmar was a point better, 14-13, over the final eight minutes but the Cougars had the thrilling end-of-the-season win.
“Dylan Ruiz had 11 points in the third quarter, he hit three 3’s and a 2-point basket, he scored all his points in the third,” Bartelink said. “Brad DaDalt had six in the third and 20 points overall, it was a great way for him to end his career, he played with a lot of energy and really stepped up.”
Escalon had previously defeated Hilmar on the road, spoiling the Winter Homecoming for the Yellowjackets. They wanted to make sure their opponent didn’t do the same thing to them on Friday night.
“Frank Leal provided some good senior leadership, he scored six points and kept us composed, Brenden Holmes had six points in the third and ended the night with 16 points and 12 rebounds.”
The all-around effort from the Cougars saw several players getting involved and Bartelink said he and the team were also grateful for the crowd support as they ended the year on a winning note.
And though there was some disappointment in not making it to the playoffs, the coach said there was more to be excited about and he’s eager to come back next season.
“At 5-7 in league, we just missed out and I thought we had a shot to get in there; there were a couple of games I thought we could win that we didn’t,” Bartelink said.
Ripon, Ripon Christian and Riverbank were the three TVL teams that made the playoffs.
“I enjoyed coaching them, they gave a great effort and that’s a credit to the kids,” added the coach. “We took a step forward and we will have some good returners next year along with some strong players moving up from the JV level.”