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Varsity basketball boys exit in quarterfinal playoff round
Escalon’s Logan Huebner tries to power past the Ripon defender in Thursday night quarterfinal play in Division 4 action. Marg Jackson/The Times

After a thrilling home victory to open the playoffs on Feb. 13, the season for the Escalon varsity basketball boys came to an end on the road on Feb. 15. They topped Marysville in the opening round of the Division 4 postseason but fell to Trans-Valley League rival Ripon in the quarterfinals.

Tuesday, Feb. 13, the boys hosted the number 12 seed and defending CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D4 champion, Marysville, putting a 63-53 win on the books.

“It was a great home court playoff environment! It was fun following the girls’ team that got the night started off right with a playoff win of their own,” head coach Nate Bartelink said, as the gym was the site of back-to-back contests in the Tuesday night opening round.

“We had several returners from the 2023 team that had earned a home playoff game at that time, but lost to Orestimba. We did not want to have that feeling again,” added Bartelink. “The players came out focused, played with great energy, and defended at a high level. Early on we rebounded well and won all of the 50/50 balls. I was happy with how we followed the game plan.”

Escalon had an 11-7 lead after one quarter and then built up a 30-15 lead by the half.

“Ryan Murphy got hot in the second quarter, making five shots from the high post area. Ethan (Garza) and Sam (Jimenez), our captains, our leaders, were making plays as well. We were pleased going into the locker room at half, only allowing 15 points.”

However, with the knowledge that Marysville took home the blue banner last season, Bartelink said they knew they had to be ready for a much stronger effort by the visitors over the final two periods. Marysville, in fact, outscored Escalon 21-15 in the third to chip into the lead. The Cougars did have a 45-36 edge entering the final quarter.

“We knew Marysville wouldn’t go quietly … their coaching staff and a few of their players have been through these types of games before. Marysville’s effort seemed to increase in the third quarter; playing with some desperation,” Bartelink explained. “Their athleticism and size started to give us some problems. They were in the playoffs for a reason; they’re a good team. They battled back and got our lead down to six at a couple different points in the fourth quarter, but we made enough plays to maintain the lead.”

Coming through in the clutch again was Murphy, said Bartelink.

“Ryan Murphy hit an important three-pointer in the fourth quarter, in a big spot, to extend the lead back to a more comfortable margin. As a team, we shot 16 of 19 from the free throw line, which was an important factor in getting the lead and maintaining it throughout. It was a great feeling getting that playoff win; something our program has been working towards for a little while now. Getting in the playoffs and winning playoff games is something we expect each season.”

Captains Jimenez, with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and Garza, with 15 points and five assists paced the effort once again. Murphy came on strong in the big game with 13 points, including 10 in the second quarter alone. Ben Fletcher had seven points and four rebounds, Logan Huebner added five points and had eight deflections, Ryan Lewis chipped in with five points.

Bartelink said the win was satisfying for a number of reasons.

“This win wasn’t just about the players and coaches in the locker room on that night … this was for the guys that have come through this program in the last six years, those that helped re-establish and build the current culture,” the coach noted. “They helped lay the foundation for the current group; a foundation that each successive season has built upon. Along with our current squad, I was thinking about those other guys on Tuesday night. It was a proud moment for our program!”

Heading out on the road, traveling to nearby Ripon on Thursday night, Feb. 15, the number five seed Cougars had the early lead in the tough road atmosphere. But a school record 15 three-pointers – an incredible nine of them in the third quarter alone – paved the way for the number four seed Ripon Indians to take the quarterfinal victory, defeating Escalon by a 78-65 final.

“After a bit of a slow start the first few minutes, we played well for the rest of the first quarter and early second quarter to establish a double-digit lead. Ripon applied some pressure late in the second quarter that threw us off a bit,” Bartelink said. “We turned it over a few times and took some forced shots. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to maintain the double-digit lead and possibly extend it going into halftime. With that said, I thought we were in a decent spot having a seven-point lead on the road at halftime.”

Escalon outscored Ripon in the first quarter, 14-8, and also had the edge, 15-14, in the second to build up the 29-22 advantage at the half. But the onslaught began as the teams came out of the locker room at halftime and Ripon rolled to a 56-point second half.

“During the third quarter, Ripon went on an absolute shooting barrage that I have never witnessed at the high school level. They made a staggering nine out of 10 threes during that quarter. It was unbelievable,” said Bartelink. “It didn’t matter what defense we ran, what personnel we put in; they were white hot. We couldn’t just focus on one or two of their players that were shooting it well. Four different Ripon players made at least two three-pointers during that quarter. It was a helpless feeling.”

The student cheering sections for each school – at opposite ends of the Ripon gym diagonally, kept up a steady stream of chants, with Ripon growing louder as the third quarter unfolded.

“Ethan Garza did everything in his power to keep us in the game despite Ripon’s insane shooting,” said Bartelink. “He scored 14 points in that quarter, matching them shot for shot for a stretch.”

With Garza and the entire Indians roster trading treys, it kept the Cougar crowd engaged, and the Escalon squad trailed by just three points entering the final frame, 55-52.

“Us trailing by three points going into the fourth quarter was hard to believe given how hot Ripon was. Unfortunately, Ripon also made more plays than us during the fourth quarter,” Bartelink noted. “We weren’t able to generate high quality shots or get stops. The boys played extremely hard for 32 minutes, but Ripon’s school record 15 three-pointers for the game proved to be too much to overcome. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to your opponent for outplaying you and that was the case in this one.”

Garza tied his varsity career/season high with 30 points.

“He played amazing and left it all out there in his final high school game,” Bartelink said. “Ben Ferreira had nine points; it was good to see Ben back healthy and playing well. He’s had an ankle injury that has limited him the last half of TVL play.”

Jimenez tallied eight points on the night for the team.

“He would never make any excuses, but he was playing through a very sore tailbone. He injured it in the previous game when taking a big charge. He was unable to practice on Wednesday,” Bartelink said of Jimenez. “The injury affected his explosion in this game. He’s a warrior and a competitor, and went out there and gave it everything that he had for his team. I’m beyond proud of him.”

Adding five points apiece to the total for the game were Huebner and Danny Gonzalez.

“Basketball is a make or miss game. Ripon made 15 of their 22 three-point attempts and shot a crazy 75 percent effective field goal percentage. At the professional level, if a team has a 50 percent effective field goal percentage, that is considered good. Ripon was well beyond that on this night,” Bartelink summarized. “There was a lot of emotion in the locker room after the game. This team was invested; they care deeply for each other. The sudden finality of this season has been hard to accept. I couldn’t have been prouder to be their coach. I’d run it back with them next year and beyond if I could.”

With the win and loss in the postseason, the varsity boys ended the campaign with a 23-7 overall record. They were third in the Trans-Valley League behind Ripon Christian and Ripon, going 8-4 during the regular season.

“While our season didn’t end like we had hoped, when we let some time pass and reflect on the big picture, our program has taken another step in the right direction. First 20-win season, most wins in 19 years, first playoff win in 10 years,” Bartelink said. “I’m very proud of this group; they raised the bar that was set from the teams before them.”

He added that the team will miss its six seniors, all of whom have made contributions.

“They left the program in a better place than they found it. This program is in good shape and I expect a lot of success next season,” said Bartelink. “The cupboard is not empty by any means. While it’ll be tough to replace our committed seniors, we have a lot of talented returners. I know the returners are hungry and will put in a lot of work in the off-season. We’re not going anywhere.”

And from the student cheering sections to a large group of supporters that showed up in the Cougar Dome and traveled to cheer on the team in road games, the coach noted that he is very grateful.

“I’d like to thank everyone that supported us throughout the season. The parents, fans, administration and other EHS staff members. It’s a privilege to be coaching in this community,” Bartelink said.

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Junior Ryan Murphy goes up to try and block the shot attempt from his Ripon opponent. The TVL rivals met in quarterfinal playoff action; Ripon took a 78-65 victory. Marg Jackson/The Times
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A loud cheering section of Escalon students traveled to nearby Ripon for the Thursday night, Feb. 15 quarterfinal basketball playoff game, pitting the varsity Cougars against their Trans-Valley League rival Indians. Marg Jackson/The Times