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Varsity Boys Second At Oakdale Tournament
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If effort and determination were enough, Escalon would have won the Oakdale Rotary Classic Basketball Tournament.

But scoring points also figured in to the equation and Ripon Christian was a few points better than the Cougars in Thursday night's championship game, besting Escalon 64-53 to win the first place trophy. Escalon finished second and Steve Gentry was named to the All Tournament Team.

"They're really tall," Escalon coach Mike Backovich said of facing off against Trans-Valley League rival Ripon Christian in the finale. "But again, I think it boils down to practice time, we didn't start practices Nov. 1, some of our guys came out in the third week, some in the fourth week of November so there are just some things we haven't practiced yet."

Escalon, however, made the most of their appearance in the 16-team, four-day tournament by going 3-1. They beat Davis on Monday, bounced Summerville on Tuesday, topped Sonora on Wednesday and hung tough against Ripon Christian before falling to the undefeated Knights.

"At times, we looked stagnant on offense and there are things we could have done differently on defense," Backovich said of the championship game. "But you can't take anything away from our kids' effort. It's just that sometimes tall and good is better than short and good."

Escalon also had trouble making their shots count against Ripon Christian, with only Gentry - who poured in 28 points - having any real success from the floor.

"From games one, two and three, where we shot well, Thursday night we didn't," Backovich explained. "The ball was short or long, short tells you that your legs are tired and we were short a lot, our guys were tired. But what a run."

Opening up against Division I school Grace Davis on Monday, Escalon built up a huge 34-14 lead at the half and then had to battle the larger school down the stretch, holding them off to take a 51-46 win with some clutch late free throw shooting.

"Marc (Backovich) took their leading scorer out of the game and we played a great team game," said the coach.

Grant Goedhart and Steve Gentry were scoring leaders with 11 points each, Marcus Savage had 10 and Marc Backovich added 10 as well.

Against Summerville on Tuesday, Savage and Gentry were the standouts, while the team as a whole played tremendous defense.

"This was a team that was averaging in the 60s and we held them to 40 points," noted Backovich. "And 20 of their 40 points came in the fourth quarter."

Gentry put in 19 points in the win, Savage was close behind with 14 points.

That put the Cougars into the semifinals against Sonora and Escalon put together another solid defensive effort.

"This one we called our 'Brian Beeman night' because he had a great game. It seemed like Steve Gentry had a great overall tournament and then it was someone different every night that contributed," Backovich said.

Beeman had 14 points in the 61-55 win against Sonora, Gentry had 19. Backovich and Goedhart scored nine points apiece and Anthony Suniga put together a solid game with seven points.

In the championship against Ripon Christian, the Cougars stayed with them early, trailing just 14-13 after one quarter. The Knights distanced themselves a bit with a strong 17-8 run in the second quarter to post a halftime lead of 31-21. The Cougars got into some foul trouble and had to periodically bench Gentry and Goedhart to keep them from fouling out of the game.

Backovich said the team just didn't have a way to effectively stop RC's big man, Justin Adema, from scoring.

Escalon kept within striking distance, cutting the deficit to five points with 5:52 to play in the fourth, Andrew Beam winning a hard fought battle under the boards to put in the bucket. Ripon Christian continued to pressure, though, hitting shots and forcing Escalon to go for some treys late in the game. Backovich hit one to again trim the lead to five, 52-47, with 3:45 to play and Gentry sank one from 3-point range with a minute to play to again pull the Cougars within five at 58-53. But late free throws iced the game for RC, as Escalon was forced to foul the bigger squad. The final was 64-53 for Ripon Christian, keeping their winning streak intact.

The Cougars brought home a huge second place trophy and Backovich said he was extremely pleased with the effort over the four-day period, his squad winning three out of four.

This week, they host Linden on Friday night, Jan. 7 and start Trans-Valley League play on Saturday, hosting Patterson in a 5 p.m. contest.