By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Varsity Cougar Boys Go Winless In First Two League Contests

After going 2-2 in the Rotary holiday classic basketball tournament hosted at Oakdale, the Escalon varsity boys basketball team jumped into Trans-Valley League play this week.

They were on the road for both contests, playing at Ripon on Wednesday, Jan. 2 and heading to Modesto Christian on Friday, Jan. 4.

The boys went into TVL play on a winning note, topping Ripon Christian for seventh place in the Oakdale tourney, beating the Knights 44-38 behind 12 points from Doyle Niu, 11 from Armando Becerra and 10 from James Harrison.

"It was kind of an ugly game," admitted coach Martin Louro. "This was a game between rivals, it was back and forth."

Escalon came away with the win, going .500 for the four-day tournament.

Then it was down to business, facing a tough Ripon team on the road to begin the league campaign.

"They're a good team, they had only five preseason wins but that's because of the caliber of teams they play, they seek out tough opponents," Louro said.

Ripon ran out to a 10-2 first quarter lead and ended up winning the game, 51-37.

"We came out timid in the first quarter, we looked almost scared," explained Louro. "I was disappointed in that, I thought we were past all that ... even so, it was not an insurmountable lead."

Ripon put in 16 points in the second quarter to Escalon's 12, making it 26-14 at the half.

The host team was able to stay ahead, even though the teams played much more evenly in the second half, with Ripon holding just a 25-23 edge over the final two periods.

"We did a fairly decent job defensively the whole game, but we just looked out of sync on offense," said the coach. "They wanted to run and we tried to stop it, they got about 10 points on fast breaks but they weren't free, we had someone back each time."

The hard fought game gave Louro reason to be optimistic that his Cougars can get the Indians when they come to town for the second round.

"I like our chances next time," he said.

James Harrison had 13 points, 11 of them in the second half when he came alive for his team.

"He matured in the second half a great deal," explained Louro. "He fought, he went hard to the rim."

Playing timid early, like the rest of the team, Louro said he had to fire up the squad - and Harrison - at halftime to get them to respond.

"He got mad at me, went out in the second half and showed me and hopefully himself as well," Louro said of what Harrison is capable of on the court. "He was the dominant figure in that second half and he can be a dominant figure in our league."

Niu had six points on the night, second to Harrison's 13.

At Modesto Christian on Friday night, Louro said he knew it was going to be tough but he was happy with the way the team played and fought to the end of the 96-53 loss.

"Unlike the first quarter at Ripon, we absolutely showed no fear against them," he said of taking on the Crusaders. "We were getting loose balls, charging, shoving guys around ... I was really proud of the moxie they showed and I think they earned a little respect with the way we never backed down, we never gave up."

Modesto Christian took a 38-15 lead in the first and outscored Escalon 24-19 in the second, 27-10 in the third with the Cougars getting the edge, 9-7, in the fourth.

"It wasn't easy for them, they had to earn everything," Louro said.

Harrison again paced the Cougars with 18 points and 14 rebounds, mixing it up under the basket and making a statement on the floor.

"Doyle Niu played his best offensive game of the season and my freshman, Brandon Shaw, did a good job taking care of the ball and also had a blocked shot," Louro noted.

Niu had 13 points on the night and as a team, the Cougars had fewer turnovers and played a scrappy game.

"They all played hard," Louro agreed. "You hate to be happy about a loss but my guys played basketball Friday night, if they can play at that level every night, we should be fine."

The Cougars were slated to play at home Tuesday, Jan. 8 after The Times went to press, hosting Ripon Christian and will be on the road Friday, Jan. 11 at Riverbank. Varsity action starts in Riverbank at 8 p.m.