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Varsity Baseball - Cougars Clinch Trans-Valley League Title, Top Seed
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An unbelievable finish to a wild game, Escalon took an 11-10 victory off the field at Hilmar in varsity baseball action Tuesday, May 1. They then nailed down a 4-2 win in windy conditions on Thursday to secure the number one seed into the playoffs.

"You thought you'd seen everything," head coach Greg Largent said, alluding to the wild one at Hilmar. "We had a 9-0 lead after two-and-a-half innings, scored three in the first, one in the second and then five runs in the third with two outs."

In that third inning, Trey Balber homered after two outs, with Matt Roberson then reaching on a double and Nathan Chunn launching a two-run blast. Phillip Kimble singled, Josh Miguel doubled to drive him in and Gino Franceschetti doubled to drive in Miguel for the five-run inning.

Cruising along at 9-0, the Cougars looked primed for the easy win. But then the wheels fell off.

"We gave up four runs in the third, made some errors, let them climb back in," Largent said. "They scored four more in the fourth and all of a sudden, we were up just 9-8."

Escalon added two runs in the fifth, with a double by Kimble and a two-run homer from Miguel to make it 11-8. Hilmar answered back with two runs on a couple of walks and an error, trimming the lead to 11-10.

In the seventh, craziness ensued.

After one out, Matt Valencia reached on an error and Jake Hood went in as the pinch runner. He stole second base. After an out, Balber walked, with Tad Dimas going in to run for him. Roberson, up next, launched a pitch to dead center, clearing the wall for a 3-run home run ... except the umpire had called a balk and sent the runners up a base, disallowing the homer on the dead ball.

"In college and the pros, you can choose not to take the balk, in high school you can't," Largent said, noting the three-run blast was erased. The Cougars didn't score and Hilmar made the most of their opportunity in the bottom of the inning.

They loaded the bases with one out and sophomore Ben Hood, brought up for the stretch run, took the mound.

"He threw two pitches," Largent said.

The second pitch was a ground ball to Franceschetti at short, who fed it to Miguel at second for the force. As Miguel tried to get the throw off to first to complete the potential game-ending double play, the Hilmar base runner slid over the top of the second base bag to take him out.

That play, however, is illegal in high school and the umpire ruled the runner at first out, giving the Cougars their most bizarre win of the season.

"It was crazy, we had a double play that actually wasn't, a home run erased," Largent said.

But the outcome was a win, with Chunn the winning pitcher and Hood getting the save. Brent Montgomery got the start, Chunn pitched in relief to earn the win. Escalon had 17 hits on the day and had an uncharacteristic four errors, while Hilmar had 12 hits and two errors.

"On a good note, we crushed the ball," said Largent.

There was some satisfaction for the Cougars in securing the Trans-Valley League title on Hilmar's field, offering the football players a little 'payback' after being defeated by the Yellowjackets for the Section crown in football this year.

Thursday at home, the Cougars and Hilmar met again, this time a 4-2 Escalon win on a windy day at Bob Loureiro Field. Seniors were recognized for their contributions to the program over the years, with honors for Matt Roberson, Patrick Mulry, Trey Balber, Josh Miguel, Gino Franceschetti, Matt Valencia, Jake Hood and Josh Vandagriff.

"Hilmar is fighting for their playoff lives," said Largent. "The first pitch of the game, they hit out of the park and were up 1-0."

Escalon answered back with two in the bottom of the first, Miguel getting on with a walk and stealing second, Mulry rapping out a double for the RBI and then later scoring himself on a wild pitch.

Hilmar tied it on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning and Escalon went ahead to stay in the bottom of the fifth.

"With two outs, Mulry walked, stole second and scored on a Matt Valencia single," Largent explained.

Tad Dimas went in to punch run for Valencia and was able to score on a "seeing eye dog single" from Robbie Steves that got past everyone and dunked in for hit.

Valencia went six strong innings, striking out 11. Montgomery pitched one inning in relief and got the save. Escalon had four runs on three hits, Hilmar had two runs on five hits.

"It was an ugly week but we got the job done," Largent said.

The boys wrap up the regular season Thursday, May 10 at Modesto Christian.

Playoffs will start on May 17.