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Varsity Boys In Playoffs Second Half Surge Lifts Cougars To Thrilling Overtime Victory
If you had the chance to sit in Escalon's locker room at halftime of Friday night's regular season varsity basketball finale, you wouldn't have heard any yelling. No slamming of the clipboard on the floor. No in-your-face pep talks.

Down 36-20 to visiting Ripon, head coach Martin Louro put it in perspective for his team.

"I sat down on the bench and just had my head in my hands," the coach said. "I told them 'you look slow, you look weak and you look scared'."

Ripon came out firing in the contest, surging to a 23-6 lead in the first quarter. The teams were tied at 5-4 in the Trans-Valley League standings entering the contest and at stake was a better seed in the playoffs.

"I was stunned," Louro added of the 23-6 hole the Cougars found themselves in after one period of play. "The first quarter I didn't even recognize them."

Realizing that, after several months together, the team knew what they had to do, Louro said he just told them to not play scared, to leave everything they had on the court so there were no regrets ... and believed in his players' ability to mount a comeback.

The low key approach forced the varsity Cougars to look within and they came alive in the third, collectively finding the will to battle back with a 24-11 scoring edge in the third quarter and a 12-9 edge in the fourth that forced the game into overtime. Escalon outscored Ripon 6-4 in the extra frame, taking the 62-60 win in front of a packed gym for Senior Night.

"They let it all hang out there in the second half," an ecstatic coach Louro said following the victory. "I knew they had it in them ... I just didn't know if we would get it out of them."

Ripon had a ton of good looks in the first quarter and nearly all of them fell. Escalon, on the other end of the spectrum, couldn't get a shot to drop if their life depended on it.

"We did a better job in the second quarter and we won that quarter by one point but by then, playing even with them was not going to get it done," Louro said.

"We made up 13 points in the third quarter, so we were down by three going into the fourth and we made up the other three in that fourth, then won it in overtime."

Even then, the coach said he felt his team had a chance to win it in regulation but didn't handle clock management very well. With Ripon calling a late fourth quarter time out to draw up the potential game-winning bucket, the shot did not materialize and the Cougars seized their opportunity and got the win in OT.

"We were 4-for-6 from the free throw line with one bucket in overtime," Louro explained. "They made one basket and were 2-for-4 from the free throw line."

Tyler Schuurman paced the boys with 17 points, followed by Spencer Franceschetti with 13, Gino Franceschetti and Brandon Shaw each putting in 11.

"Homecoming was the most amazing game I'd ever been a part of until Friday night," Louro said. "This was the biggest win I've had in four years and it gives us some momentum heading to the playoffs."

The victory assured Escalon a winning league record, 6-4, for the first time in years and also propelled them into the playoffs.

They tied for second place honors in league with Ripon Christian, both finishing behind champion Modesto Christian.

Tuesday, the boys hosted Hughson and had an easy time with the visiting Huskies, who were winless in league coming in. Topping the Huskies by a 61-25 verdict, Louro said everyone got some minutes to contribute to the victory.

"We quit pressing after the first half, the third quarter we played man and then we went back to a zone in the fourth quarter," Louro said of not running up the score. "On offense, we worked on some things, focused on passing, running plays."

Escalon took a 21-5 lead in the first, and went up 39-16 at the half. They put the game way out of reach with a 21-2 run in the third and coasted in the fourth.

Travis Cardoza seized his opportunity to get some quality minutes in, leading the team with 13 points. Shaw had nine, Spencer Franceschetti eight and Raymond David chipped in with six.

With a trip to nearby Central Catholic for the first round of the playoffs scheduled tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 24, Louro said coming back against Ripon on Friday night is something he'll never forget.

"It was a huge step for the program," he said.

He's also excited the varsity boys get a chance to taste the playoffs.

"I knew this was going to come at some time, the kids worked too hard for it not to happen," he said.

Escalon goes in as the number 12 seed, facing off in Modesto with number 5 seed Central. Ripon, which dropped to the number 16 seed with the Friday loss to Escalon, travels to take on top-ranked Colfax on Wednesday night.

The success of basketball at each level this season also bodes well for the future. Collectively, the freshman, JV and varsity squads compiled a 63-19 mark and the freshmen were 10-0 in league play and lost just two games all season.

Louro also thanked the fans and student body for being a part of this year's success.

"There's a lot of excitement," he said. "Success breeds success. The kids showed maturity (Friday night) and I'm pleased as punch. I couldn't have asked for a better game."