Two wins down the stretch helped propel the varsity Cougar basketball boys into the playoffs.
They were at home for a Wednesday, Feb. 12 game against Hughson and then took down Hilmar in a road game Friday night, Feb. 14.
Against Hughson on Senior Night, it was a 57-51 victory for the host Cougars. The teams were knotted 12-12 after one, Escalon had a 30-24 edge at the half and went up 45-33 after three.
“They went on a 13-0 run to start the fourth and went up, 46-45,” head coach Nate Bartelink said of the lead disappearing in a hurry.
The teams battled throughout the fourth quarter, the Cougars knowing they needed a win to keep themselves in playoff contention.
“They were up by one point with about two minutes left, then we went on an 8-0 run to end the game,” Bartelink said. “We took good shots, we got the stops we needed.”
The Huskies came in on fire, having won four in row and putting away Ripon, Hilmar and Riverbank in the process.
“We had beaten them twice this season,” Bartelink said of matching up with the Huskies in preseason and once in TVL play. “We had to be ready to play our best game.”
It was all seniors taking the floor to start the contest, Dylan Ruiz, Clayton Ferreira, Colton Panero, Miguel Marmol and Alex Mendoza. The coach said he was glad to see the seniors play well and the team as a whole stay calm and do what they needed to win.
Brenden Holmes had 23 points, Ty Harris added eight points and seven rebounds. Ferreira had eight points, Russell Weinbrecht added seven and Ruiz had six.
“We had good balance,” said Bartelink.
Friday night at Hilmar, the Cougars enjoyed spoiling the Yellowjackets’ Senior Night festivities.
“They had only lost one home game this season and we knew the winner was going to the get the TVL number three seed and an automatic berth in the playoffs,” Bartelink explained. “The boys went for it.”
The result was a hard fought 69-61 win, with the Cougars up by a 30-25 margin at the half, then coming up with a huge 24-13 run in the third.
“We got up by 18 points in the fourth quarter but that clock couldn’t tick quickly enough,” admitted the coach. “They got the lead down to eight points.”
After that, though, the teams basically traded baskets and the Cougars were able to walk out of the gym with the eight-point victory and the knowledge that they were playoff bound.
“They boys understood the opportunity in front of them,” Bartelink said.
Weinbrecht made his presence felt with 21 points and seven rebounds; Holmes was also a big man on the court with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“Ty Harris had eight points and 12 rebounds, Colton Panero had four points, took two charges and had five steals, they’re our two best defenders, they just do a lot of the dirty work.”
Ruiz had 12 points and Ferreira contributed four. The varsity boys went 7-5 in the TVL and 17-11 overall, headed out to Amador for a Wednesday night game, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. to open the Division IV playoffs.
A difficult but ultimately successful season came to an end for the JV boys with a pair of losses. The team’s success came not in the win-loss record but in the fact that a JV squad featuring four freshmen was competitive in nearly every contest and has laid the groundwork for wins later on.
Against Hughson, it was a 69-68 home loss for the JV Cougars.
“It was a high scoring game and we did an excellent job of moving the ball around,” said head coach Brandon Hoover. “Jack Anderson had the hot hand, our kids did a good job of finding him, he had 28 total points and hit nine 3’s, the best performance I’ve seen in a JV game.”
Desean Owens had 16 points and Mark Anthony Valente added nine.
“A really fun game, entertaining and tight throughout, I was really proud of the effort the kids gave me,” Hoover noted.
At Hilmar on Friday night, the boys took a 67-49 loss.
“They were just a tough match up for us this year,” admitted Hoover.
Anderson closed out his season with a 15-point night, hitting five 3’s.
“It was nice to see Bryce McKenzie get his first start of the season, he had four points and four assists and is just a hard-working kid,” Hoover added. “Hilmar played really well and they hit a ton of 3’s on us.”
For the season, the JV boys won just five games.
“But that doesn’t tell the story,” Hoover pointed out. “For the four freshmen we moved up, it was a great learning experience for them and this is a tremendous group of kids, they showed up to practice every day, worked hard and I see nothing but good things ahead for them.”
The freshmen lost at home to Hughson but put a win on the books on the road Friday at Hilmar. Julian Borrego hit the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime to wrap up the campaign on a winning note for the youngest Cougar boys.