After closing out preseason with a win, the Escalon varsity basketball boys dropped their first two contests in Trans-Valley League play. Both were on the road, at Riverbank and then at Ripon Christian.
First, though, the varsity squad tuned up for league with a trip to Argonaut, beating the Mustangs 63-42 on Monday, Jan. 2.
The host team took an 11-8 lead after one but Escalon held a 26-24 lead at the half, then outscored Argonaut 37-18 over the final two quarters.
“It took us a while to get going in this one, especially on the defensive end. We played really good defense in the second half to take control of the game,” explained varsity head coach Nate Bartelink. “We received good contributions from a lot of guys; nine guys scored, which is nice to see. It was a pretty good way to wrap up our non-league schedule.”
The Cougars compiled a 10-6 record in preseason action.
Ethan Garza paced the effort with 20 points and five assists; Jack Anderson was also in double figures with 15 points. Julian Borrego had nine points and eight rebounds, Ben Fletcher added six points and six rebounds.
On the road to start the regular league season, Escalon traveled to Riverbank to take on the Bruins on Wednesday, Jan. 4.
The host team outscored the Cougars in the first three quarters, but Escalon roared back with a 19-5 run in the fourth to force overtime with the teams knotted 55-55 at the end of regulation. It was 24-17 Riverbank after one, 33-23 at the half and 50-36 after three quarters. Escalon forced the overtime with the late rally but fell short, as Riverbank had a 6-4 scoring edge in extra frame to take a 61-59 win.
“This one was disappointing on several levels, from the way it started, to the way it ended. Being that it was our first league game of the season, I thought we’d come out with more focus,” explained Bartelink. “We discussed at length who their best player is, and that we needed to limit his good scoring opportunities. We then proceeded to allow him to get multiple open looks in the first quarter, all due to our mental errors. He made four three-pointers in that first quarter as our defense really let us down. As the game progressed, we did a better job containing their best player, but the damage was already done.”
Throughout the game, the Cougars were also careless with the basketball, the coach said, committing 20 turnovers.
“You simply cannot do that on the road, against a quality opponent. It’s always tough playing at Riverbank and we simply did not play well enough to earn a victory. I was proud of the guys for showing a lot of heart and playing a great fourth quarter,” said Bartelink. “But it shouldn’t have come down to that. Ethan Garza sustained an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter which kept him from finishing the game, which made things tough for us. We had a couple unforced turnovers to start overtime, but were able to tie the game with 17 seconds left after executing a well-run set.”
Riverbank had the ball for the final possession, drove to the rim, and the Bruin shot at the buzzer went in, giving them the victory.
“It was a really disappointing way to lose the game,” Bartelink admitted.
Sammy Jimenez had a solid all-around game, pouring in 21 points, pulling down 12 rebounds, and recording four assists. Ethan Garza had 11 points and six assists; Logan Huebner added 11 points and eight rebounds. Riverbank did a good job limiting the touches for Jack Anderson, holding him to six points in the contest.
Friday at Ripon Christian, the Cougars battled but came up short, 57-39. The host Knights had a 15-4 lead after one, 34-11 at the half. Escalon and RC tied 13-13 in the third and Escalon had a slight scoring edge in the fourth, but the lead was too large to overcome.
“Ripon Christian is the unquestioned favorite to win the TVL title. They have talented players, unmatched size in our league, and they do a lot of things very well. Their size and length makes it very difficult to generate consistent high quality shots. Ethan had to sit this game out due to his ankle injury. Besides missing his scoring ability, he is one of the few guys that can get into the teeth of the defense and create for his teammates,” noted Bartelink. “Jack had a great game; he did everything in his power to score for us, but we didn’t have much else besides him on the offensive end. We were down 15-0 to start the game. We honestly weren’t playing hard enough in the first half, which is disappointing. Besides struggling offensively, our transition defense and off the ball defense were poor. We need all five guys sprinting back, to be in the right spots defensively, and to rotate correctly. We played a little better in the second half, but the game was already decided by then.”
Jack Anderson had 20 points on the night, Ben Fletcher added six.
“Starting league 0-2 is not what we wanted or expected, but this is the spot that we are now in. We’ll see what kind of character we have; what we are made of. Our response the coming week will say a lot about us,” Bartelink noted. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform through this adversity.”
The team stays on the road, playing at Ripon on Wednesday, Jan. 11 and then comes home to host Livingston for the Winter Homecoming contest on Friday, Jan. 13.
“This is our biggest week of the season. Coming into TVL play, besides Ripon Christian, Ripon and Livingston were the two teams I figured we’d be fighting for to finish in the top three, for a playoff berth,” Bartelink pointed out. “We need to get healthy, consistently play more intelligently, and get back to how we are capable of playing. I don’t believe this season’s story is done being written.”
Escalon’s overall record now stands at 10-8; the Cougars were ranked #8 in the most recent Maxpreps CIF SJS rankings.