It wasn’t necessarily a pretty week but it was a good one overall for the Escalon varsity basketball boys.
They got a pair of wins and closed out the first half of Trans-Valley League play with a 4-2 record.
Home to host Hughson on Tuesday, Jan. 17, it was a 54-43 victory, with Escalon building up a 35-23 halftime lead and then staying even with the visitors the rest of the way to take the win.
“We didn’t play our best game, but came away with a victory. I give Hughson a lot of credit for how hard they played. They recently added a couple players to their line-up coming off some football injuries which made them better than expected,” said head coach Nate Bartelink. “We helped them keep the game close by not defensive rebounding well and by being careless with the ball. Giving inferior teams additional possessions gives them more opportunities to score, even when they don’t shoot the ball well. Those things will need to be cleaned up if we are going to make any noise in the second half of league and the postseason.”
The difference in this game, Bartelink added, was a few minute stretch late in the first quarter and early second quarter where they turned the Huskies over several times and got easy baskets in transition; mainly steals by Sammy Jimenez.
“He is very active defensively; does a lot of great things for us on that end of the court, in addition to being one of our leading scorers. Being only a sophomore, he has a bright future ahead in our program,” said Bartelink. “We kind of just maintained that 10- to 12-point lead throughout the game. The highlight of the night was the 40-plus EUSD K-8 youth basketball players in the gym as part of our annual Youth Basketball Night. It was great to see so many kids from Escalon there in their basketball jerseys to watch us. I hope that will continue to spark their interest in basketball and we’ll see them having success wearing Cougar uniforms in the next several years.”
Jack Anderson was leading scorer with 20 points for the Cougars, followed by Jimenez with 10 points, six rebounds, four steals and seven deflections. Zack Valencia had nine points and Ben Fletcher added six.
Thursday, Jan. 19 at Hilmar, the Cougars fell behind 14-7 in the first but turned the tables and outscored the host team in each of the remaining three periods for a 48-34 final.
“This game was very physical. The officials seemed to be letting a lot of contact go. Other than a few defensive breakdowns in the first quarter, our defense was really good all night,” noted Bartelink. “After a tight first half, our defense took control in the third quarter. Hilmar’s only field goal was a 3-pointer banked in at the buzzer. We held Hilmar under 20 percent shooting in their own gym.”
Zack Valencia was on his way to a double-double, but had to leave the game a little early with a cut on his head, Bartelink said, while Frank Richard Barrera gave the squad some important minutes in the fourth quarter and two baskets while Valencia had to sit out.
Jack Anderson poured in 22 points, his fifth straight game scoring at least 20 points.
“He’s doing a lot of heavy lifting for us, having to initiate much of the offense since Ethan’s (Garza) injury, and often times finishing our offensive possessions with a shot attempt,” Bartelink said. “He is also at the top of our zone on the defensive end; a spot that requires a lot of activity. He’s been our leader all year and we’re going to continue to ride him.
Jimenez had 11 points and seven rebounds, Valencia had eight points and nine rebounds.
“Varsity has won four games in a row, with a 14-8 overall record,” said Bartelink.
At the release of the most recent Maxpreps CIF SJS Division IV rankings, the Cougars were slotted at #8. The varsity boys are 4-2 in TVL through the first half of league play. Ripon Christian is in first place at 6-0. There is a three-way tie for second place in league with Escalon, Ripon and Riverbank.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for persevering through the last couple weeks without our second leading scorer in Ethan Garza who is out with an ankle injury,” added Bartelink. “If you would have told me before the season that he would not have played one full game through the first half of league and that we would be 4-2, I would not have believed you. He is very important to what we do; we miss having him out on the court for sure.”
Next up, the Cougars host the other three teams at the top of the TVL standings.
“We control our own destiny; we need to beat the teams head-to-head that we are battling for a playoff spot,” Bartelink said. “We definitely play much better at home. We’re looking forward to our home crowd giving us some extra juice.”
The JV boys won both of their games this past week; they are now 17-5 overall; 4-2 in TVL. A big 44-23 halftime lead propelled the JV boys to a road win at Hilmar on Thursday, 70-49, while they also handled Hughson on the home court on Jan. 17, winning by a 68-52 final.
The freshmen lost both contests in close, hard-fought games. They battled Thursday night at Hilmar, coming up short in a 49-37 decision and also took a 34-20 loss to the Huskies on the home court on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
“It was a pretty tough week. We didn’t play well against Hughson and went to Hilmar on Thursday and it was a perfect storm against us,” said head coach Steve Largent. “They made wild shots at important times and we just seemed unable to get a bounce or a roll at the right moment.”
Still, Largent said the team is eager to get back on the court for games against rivals Riverbank and Ripon Christian. In the first round of TVL play, they controlled the game against Riverbank but couldn’t quite come away with the win.
“And it’s always a special opportunity when you get Ripon Christian in the Cougar Dome on a Friday afternoon,” Largent added of the contest set for Jan. 27. “We look forward to the challenge this week and will fight the last three weeks of the season.”
Two home games are scheduled for the basketball boys this week: Wednesday, Jan. 25 against Riverbank and Friday, Jan. 27 against Ripon Christian.