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Varsity Baseball Starts Season Off Strong
With a big target on their collective back, the Escalon varsity baseball team - defending Trans-Valley League, Section and State champions, started the 2012 campaign with a trio of victories.

Head coach Greg Largent said the players know everyone will want to take them down, looking to defeat the reigning state champions.

"We'll see everybody's ace, every team will get up for us," Largent said. "This senior group is battle-tested, they have confidence in each other and in themselves."

The Cougars kicked off the new season with an 8-0 win against Downey on Feb. 24, with five innings pitched from Matt Valencia (seven strikeouts, one walk, three hits) and two by Brent Montgomery with four strikeouts.

"He got a good double play ball to end it," Largent said of Montgomery.

Valencia had two hits and a run batted in to help his own cause, with Josh Miguel setting the table from his leadoff spot, getting on base all four times. Trey Balber tripled and drove in a run and played great defense, as did Jake Hood with a diving catch in the outfield and Gino Franceschetti with an unassisted double play at middle infielder.

Thursday, March 1, the Cougars hosted Sierra under threatening skies and took a 9-3 win in their home opener.

Five runs in the first inning set the tone, with four more in the second for the Cougars. Sierra got single runs in the first, fifth and sixth innings.

"Our first five hitters reached safely and they all scored," Largent said. "A highlight was a two-run opposite field home run by Robbie Steves."

Montgomery got the start and went four innings, striking out two, giving up two walks and three hits. Matt Roberson pitched an inning and two-thirds in relief and closing it out was Raymond Guevara, with an inning and a third.

Franceschetti had two hits, including a double, with a double from Miguel as well, an RBI single from Roberson and Steves with three RBI on the day. Balber had a sacrifice fly, Nathan Chunn just missed a home run, settling for a double.

Friday, the varsity was at home again, this time hosting Sonora in a game rescheduled from the Sonora site, and the Cougars took a 2-0 win off the field.

"This was a great game," Largent said of the low-scoring contest. "Matt (Valencia) went the distance, had 10 strikeouts, one walk and allowed just four hits."

Escalon finally broke through with a run in the fourth inning, Franceschetti getting on with a single and stealing a base, coming in to score on Steves' RBI double.

In the sixth, they manufactured a run to get some insurance.

"Josh Miguel walked, stole second, Gino had a perfect ground out to advance the runner and Patrick Mulry came up with the sacrifice fly," Largent explained. "Again, we played good defense all day and Trey did a great job behind the plate, called a great game and threw out a runner trying to steal."

Kudos also went to Phil Kimble, making a diving catch in right field.

"We're off and running," Largent said. "We're taking one day, one game at a time because the target is even bigger this year. The kids know that."

Eight seniors and junior Steves return to the varsity lineup, along with eight juniors making the move up from the JV team, all looking for playing time. The team will be in Aptos this weekend for a coast trip, playing Aptos and Pacific Grove.