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Varsity Cougars Hit Playoffs On High Note
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Still solidly in playoff contention, Escalon's varsity boys split their Trans-Valley League contests this week. They were winners at home Tuesday over Hughson, but ran into undefeated Ripon on the road Friday, falling to the Indians.

Roaring out to an early lead over the visiting Huskies in the Feb. 8 contest, the host Cougars built up a 39-10 lead at the half. Three players were in double figures on the night, paced by the 15-point performance from Marc Backovich. All his points came on 3-point baskets, hitting five of them from that range in the contest.

Adding 14 points each to the total were Grant Goedhart and Steve Gentry, as the Cougars took an easy 70-34 victory.

The host team jumped to a 15-3 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, while coach Mike Backovich started to substitute freely in the second half, pulling starters in favor of getting his bench players some quality time on the court. Eleven different players got in on the scoring.

"They were in a zone early and we hit a lot of shots in the first half," Backovich said. "They made us shoot from the outside but when your guys are hitting from there, the zone isn't effective."

Backovich said the Huskies came in less aggressively than they have in the past and didn't play as well as he feels they are capable of. But, his Cougars took the opportunity to put the game in the win column.

"Grant had 10 points in the first half, Marc hit three 3's in the first half," the coach noted.

Friday night, the Cougars went on the road to Ripon and found the roles reversed, with the host Indians dumping them by a 70-37 verdict.

"They're better than us right now," Backovich said of the Indians, improving to 12-0 in the TVL with the win. "I don't feel like we played very well again, maybe good teams take you out of that. That was their chance at home to win the league championship and I wasn't very pleased with our performance, we need to re-group and re-rally."

The Cougars ended the week at 9-3 in league play, second only to Ripon. In third place are Patterson and Ripon Christian, both with 7-5 marks.

Ripon raced to a 22-12 lead in the first quarter on Friday and held the Cougars to single digits in both the second and third quarters, extending the lead to 35-17 at the half, 54-25 after three periods.

Gentry was the only player in double figures for Escalon with an 11-point night, seven of them coming on the free throw line.

"We have a great opportunity to be second in this league by ourselves and that's huge," Backovich said. "Nobody expected us to be here, at this point, but the job is still out there to be's all about us playing well, getting a good seed in the power rankings, the next two games will be a playoff-like atmosphere."

The final two regular season games are at home, the Cougars were slated to host Ripon Christian on Tuesday, Feb. 15 after The Times went to press and will close out the regular season with Senior Night on Friday, Feb. 18, hosting Hilmar. Playoffs start Wednesday, Feb. 23 and Backovich said Escalon should learn who its first round opponent will be on Sunday afternoon.

Between now and then, however, he said the varsity players have to focus on the task at hand, finishing the season strong and entering the playoffs on a high note.

"You need to attack the reasons you didn't play well and fix that," he said of rebounding from the loss to Ripon. "That's a matter of pride."