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Varsity Girls Claim Second Place In Tournament
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Battling their way to wins in the first two rounds of their own basketball tournament, the Escalon Lady Cougars had hopes of capturing the championship on Friday night.

Unfortunately, Pitman had other ideas. The Pride held off Escalon with a strong second half, taking the crown of the annual Lions Tournament in a 39-26 contest.

"We knew they would be aggressive," head coach Gary Ball said of Pitman. "We knew we had to control the ball, execute on offense."

Ball said he felt his players did a pretty good job getting the offensive schemes going, but failed to capitalize on the scoreboard.

"We finally executed," he said. "Now we have to make the shots that come off our offense."

Escalon trailed just 19-14 at the half but scored just 12 points in the second half compared to Pitman's 20.

"It was a low scoring game," agreed Ball. "We couldn't get any offense, it wasn't because we didn't get the shots, we're seeing the team execute."

Kacey Ball and Sandi French each had eight points in the contest, high scorers for the team. French put in the first six points of the game for the Lady Cougars.

"She's one of our senior leaders and she had been struggling a bit," said Ball. "Maybe this will turn her around."

Escalon went into the three-day tournament with a Wednesday match against Central Catholic and prevailed with a 49-46 win.

"This was an extremely exciting game if you were a spectator, a very ugly game as a coach," Ball noted. "There were 52 fouls in this game. Central is a very scrappy team, we went to the free throw line 38 times, they went 34 times."

Leading the way for Escalon was Shannon Krein, 12 points, exerting a strong presence in the middle.

"Shannon had two key free throws with about 30 seconds to go," Ball explained. "The game was tied at 46, she was fouled and made both of them."

Those would prove to be the game winner, though the Cougars got one more free throw as time wound down. Lauren Brown put in eight points to back up Krein, while Jennifer Costa had seven and Kelly Colin added six.

"Thursday against Hughson, it was about as ugly but in a different way," said Ball. "We struggled getting into our patterns. We mixed up our defenses, we had quite a few steals and forced points on turnovers so that was the key, our defense."

Escalon took that game by a 34-23 decision, holding the Huskies to just seven field goals on the night.

Krein was again the points leader, putting in 11 for Escalon, while Alyssa Guzman chipped in with six.

"As ugly as that was, it got us to the finals," Ball said.

The Lady Cougars were frustrated by Pitman in the championship game, however, having to settle for the second place honors. Hughson took third place over Riverbank in the semifinals, winning in overtime, 48-46. Krein was named to the All Tournament Team representing the host team.

Ball said he did see some progress during the tournament, with the Lady Cougars getting a little more comfortable in some of their patterns and the defense stepping it up. Now they will have to find the offense to go along with it to complete the package.

"If Lauren Brown and Sandi French start giving us the offense we expect they can, we could be a totally different team," Ball pointed out. "Kelly Colin is coming on and Shannon has been a wonderful surprise."

Sophomore Jennifer Costa is also getting some playing time and getting used to the faster paced varsity version of the sport.

The girls kicked off the season with a home game against Summerville on Monday, Nov. 29 before hosting the three-day tournament. They were 31-25 winners against the Bears, paced by 18 points from Kacey Ball and seven from Krein.

"The second quarter was the key for us," said Ball. "We jumped out on them early, then didn't score for much of the first and into the second but we scored eight points late in the second quarter to take a halftime lead, 16-11."

The teams played evenly in the second half, which allowed the Escalon lead to stay intact and be enough for the victory.

"We're still struggling to get some fluidity but winning ugly is better than losing pretty," said Ball. "We're 3-1 right now and last year at this time we were 1-3."

The girls have a little break this week after a hectic pace over the past few days. Their only game is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9, when they will travel to Linden for a non-league game. The varsity girls will travel next week, heading to Turlock Christian for a Monday, Dec. 13 game and then will be at home on Thursday, Dec. 16 to host Pitman.