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Varsity Cougars Go Undefeated In Taking League Crown
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With three wins in the final week of the regular season, the Escalon Cougars improved to 26-0 and ran the table in Trans-Valley League play, completing a perfect season in winning the TVL championship.

Now, they head to the playoffs for the second season and are going in on a high note, winning the season finale at home in come-from-behind fashion, beating Ripon Christian 4-3 on Friday in eight innings.

"The cardiac Cougars," coach Greg Largent said, noting the team gave up an unearned run to the Knights with two out in the eighth, only to come back and score two of their own in the bottom of the frame.

They started the week at home, in a make up game of a rained out contest from Friday, May 1. They hosted Ripon on May 4 and took a 9-3 win off the field.

"In the top of the third, we gave them an unearned run but then we woke up, sent nine batters to the plate," Largent said of taking the lead in the bottom of the third.

Derrick DeFreitas doubled, Patrick Mulry singled, Travis Cardoza singled to drive in a run and Josh Miguel singled to drive in another. Spencer Franceschetti then doubled to drive in one, Leighton Pangilinan was walked intentionally and Nick Largent doubled, driving in two. Charlie McDonald followed with a two-RBI single and another run scored on a wild pitch to give Escalon an 8-1 lead.

Ripon added runs with solo homers in the fifth and seventh innings, but Escalon countered with their final run in the fifth, Largent scoring on a single, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly.

Aaron Pangilinan got the start and went six innings, giving up two runs on eight hits, with four strikeouts and three walks. Jon Whitesitt came on to pitch the seventh, giving up one run and striking out one. Miguel and Largent were both 2-for-4 on the day, with single hits from Cardoza, Franceschetti, McDonald, DeFreitas and Mulry.

"We played great defense all day, turned a nice double play, Miguel had a nice diving play in the fifth, dove headlong for the ball and then got the out at the base," Largent noted.

On the road for the start of the final series, the Cougars headed to Ripon Christian on Wednesday, May 6 and took a 12-1 win off the field. The game did go the complete seven innings.

They got their first run in the second, with a solo home run by Aaron Pangilinan, after fouling off about six pitches.

"The way he hit it, with the wind blowing in and it still got out, it was crushed," Largent said.

In the third, Cardoza doubled, Franceschetti singled to drive him in, Leighton Pangilinan had an RBI double, Largent had an RBI single, with an RBI ground out from McDonald to make it 5-0. Two runs on RBI groundouts made it 7-0 and another run in the fifth made it 8-0 before RC got on the board with an unearned run in the bottom of the fifth. In the sixth, Leighton Pangilinan doubled and McDonald drove him in with a single for a 9-1 lead.

"In the seventh, Mulry singled, Miguel singled and Franceschetti hit a three-run homer," Largent said of the 12-1 finale.

John Lopez went six strong innings, striking out nine, allowing just one hit and two walks. Justin Martinez pitched the final inning, with two strikeouts and one walk.

With the roster expanded, some underclassmen had the chance to get in, with James Hill and Matt Valencia both making contact in pinch hit appearances, putting the ball in play. Brandon Shaw played some good defense and Gino Franceschetti went in as a pinch runner.

Those two would figure in to Friday's finale as well.

"Friday was a crazy game," Largent admitted.

Pre-game ceremonies on the field saluted the seniors, Charlie McDonald, Leighton Pangilinan, John Lopez, Josh Messersmith, Tony Gonzales and Jon Whitesitt, with recognition for their parents as well.

Ripon Christian spoiled the mood, and jumped on top with a pair of walks and a two-RBI double in the second for the early 2-0 lead.

Escalon answered back in the bottom of the inning, Miguel driving in DeFreitas, who had doubled, and Cardoza, who had been hit by a pitch, to knot it at 2-2.

"They did silence our bats," Largent noted of the Ripon Christian pitchers. "We hit the ball but it was right at someone."

The game stayed tied at 2-2 through the rest of regulation, with the Knights scratching out the go ahead run in the top of the eighth.

After two outs, a runner reached on a throw wide of first, moved up on a passed ball, tried to steal third and came in to score when the throw down the line was wide and went into left field.

After a walk, starting pitcher Leighton Pangilinan was lifted, going seven-and-two-thirds innings. Martinez came on and, with one pitch, got the third out.

Then it was time for some Cougar magic, as the team refused to quit when an undefeated season was so close.

After a strikeout to start the inning, Aaron Pangilinan singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Shaw came in as a pinch runner and he came around to score when a hard smash by DeFreitas glanced off the third baseman's glove and into left field. DeFreitas ended up on second with the tying run already in and Gino Franceschetti was put in to pinch run. Then it was freshman Patrick Mulry's time to be the hero, waiting on the pitch and biding his time.

He was waiting for the fast ball and didn't miss it when he saw it.

"I was feeling the nerves but I love being in those types of situations," Mulry said. "I just wanted to drive the ball, I was sitting on it (the fast ball) and I was pretty sure it was going to drop in, the center fielder was pretty deep. I didn't think he could get to it.

"It felt awesome."

Gino Franceschetti crossed the plate with the winning run, capping off the undefeated season.

Leighton Pangilinan threw 138 pitches, struck out 12, walked six and hit two batters, allowing just two hits. He got a no decision, however, with Martinez - with his one pitch - being the beneficiary of the two final at-bat runs to get the win.

Largent thanked the community for coming out to support the Cougars, especially over the past few weeks. The stands were full to overflowing on Friday.

"All the support we've had, the outpouring has just been great," he said. "The community and the parents, grandparents and the donut shop gang, they're all here."

RC had just two hits on Friday, Escalon had six, with three from DeFreitas and one each from Miguel, Aaron Pangilinan and Mulry.

"Now the new season starts," Largent said.

The Cougars were slated to start the playoffs on Tuesday, May 12 after The Times went to press, at Zupo Field in Lodi, taking on Calaveras. A win there would put them in the second round, a best two-out-of-three series on Saturday, May 16 and Monday, May 18. The winner of that series moves to the finals on Monday, May 25.