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Varsity Cougars Knock Off Undefeated Indians
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After a disappointing loss on the road Tuesday, the Escalon varsity Cougars roared back with their most satisfying win of the year, defeating previously unbeaten Ripon on Friday.

For the Feb. 10 contest at Hughson, the boys took a 56-52 loss.

"I started an entirely different group," coach Mike Backovich said of shaking the line-up a bit to present a fresh face. "We got down early, then battled back. We didn't play exceptionally well, but we played hard."

Hughson took a 14-6 lead after the first quarter, Escalon battled back to trim the lead to 27-22 at the half.

"We had some critical turnovers," added Backovich.

With a 15-12 edge in the third quarter, the Cougars were poised to make a run at the end, trailing just 39-37 after three. But Hughson edged out the Cougars in scoring in the final frame to take the slim win.

"We battled hard, we just got down early and it was tough to battle back from that early deficit," Backovich explained. "And we had some defensive breakdowns."

Steve Gentry and Grant Goedhart both had solid games, putting in 14 points apiece for the Cougars in the loss.

Friday night, the varsity hosted Ripon, the Indians coming in with a perfect mark in league play. With it being the final home game of the regular season, the squad celebrated it as Senior Night and gave special recognition to the graduating senior players and cheerleaders.

They capped it off with an upset win over the Indians, handing the previously undefeated Ripon team its first league loss, a 63-53 decision.

"What a way to celebrate Senior Night," Backovich said. "I've watched the film five times and I cannot say enough about our fans, they were the difference in the game."

With a capacity crowd on each side of the gymnasium, it was a playoff-like atmosphere, each bucket a reason to celebrate, each free throw a reason to try and jangle the nerves of the opposing player at the charity stripe.

"I've been here a long time and I have never seen anything like that," Backovich admitted. "I'd be shocked if we don't have to replace the bleachers in that section (Escalon fan side). It's just a credit to both schools to have that kind of support but we outcheered them, too."

Escalon had an 18-11 lead after one quarter but went cold to start the second, watching as none of their shots fell and the visitors slowly chipped away at the lead, eventually surpassing the Cougars.

At halftime, Ripon held a 31-29 lead.

"In the second quarter, they only missed two shots," Backovich said of the Indians.

The teams battled throughout the contest and Ripon got into foul trouble, leading scorer Nathan Clark having to sit out most of the second half due to his personal fouls.

"They got into foul trouble but that's their problem," Backovich pointed out.

He also credited the support of the hometown fans for making a difference as the game reached its fever pitch and the Cougars took aim to knock off the undefeated team.

"The whole school spirit thing, our student body stood up and when they did, positive things happen," said Backovich. "It was contagious and the more I watch that film, it was just an amazing thing."

Backovich said his defense also came through, guarding Clark, while the offense clicked with its post to past passing and its post to guard passing.

"Steve Gentry went to work down there," Backovich said of getting the ball deep. "And Brian Beeman had a great night, give him a lot of credit. The momentum was set early."

Starters included seniors Jose Uribe and Andrew Ayala, two seniors who see limited playing time but got the start in the home finale.

"What they contribute to the team in practices and games is outstanding," said Backovich. "They're happy to be there and happy to contribute."

The well-rounded effort saw three players in double figures, 18 points from Gentry, 13 from Beeman and 11 from Goedhart.

Beeman sparked the team from the start, scoring the first seven points of the night for the Cougars as he also got the nod to join the starting line-up.

The host team made the most of their free throws down the stretch, including some key hits from Jonny Norton, to keep the Indians at bay.

"The whole night, our town really showed why small school sports are successful," noted Backovich. "The town showed its pride. I've told the kids that sometimes the 'want to' is as important as the 'how to' in winning and the 'want to' showed on Friday night."

The boys improved to 7-5 in league play with the win over Ripon, 13-8 overall.

"We should have a good opportunity for the playoffs," Backovich said.

The team closes out the regular season on the road, they were slated to play at Ripon Christian on Tuesday and will be in action Friday night at Hilmar.