With a large, supportive crowd on hand and the rival Yellowjackets in the building, Escalon’s varsity basketball boys came away with an overtime win on Friday night.
Chants of “Just like football” rang out from the student section in the EHS gym as the Cougars put away the visiting Hilmar squad to cap a strong surge and close out the first half of league play with four wins and two losses.
“Hilmar came in with one loss in league, to Ripon Christian,” head coach Nate Bartelink explained. “We knew we would have our hands full but it was a great environment, a good crowd, we came away with a 55-53 overtime win.”
Hilmar had a slim 15-13 lead after one quarter but the Cougars took control in the second, outscoring the Yellowjackets 16-7 in that frame to take a 29-22 lead at the half.
Bartelink said he liked the way the team was playing and the lead felt comfortable, but it didn’t last long.
“They made a run, went 8-0 to start the third quarter and take the lead,” the coach said.
After absorbing that shock, the host Cougars settled down and the teams battled throughout the final two quarters, the lead changing multiple times and neither team able to get more than a possession or two in front. Hilmar had a 19-11 scoring edge in the third to lead 41-40 entering the fourth and the teams ended regulation knotted at 51-51. Escalon was a bucket better, 4-2, over the Yellowjackets in the OT for the 55-53 victory.
“Dylan Ruiz hit three big 3’s for us in the fourth quarter, he had 12 points overall,” said Bartelink. “Brenden Holmes had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Russell Weinbrecht had 14 points, five rebounds and four blocks,”
Senior Colton Panero had “the best two-point game I’ve ever seen,” the coach added, as he battled for rebounds, had several steals and took some charges to add to the overall effort.
The crowd definitely got its money’s worth on Friday night, as both teams fought for every point and every lead change was a celebration.
“The guys are competing at a high level,” agreed Bartelink. “We didn’t make it easy but we got the stops we needed and we just made a few more plays than they did.”
Earlier, the Cougars had traveled to Hughson for a Thursday, Jan. 23 game and knew going in that the Huskies were having a tough season.
“We had seen them earlier in a non-league tournament but they definitely played better, they played with some pride,” Bartelink said.
Escalon did walk off with the 55-40 victory.
“We played good defense, but our offense was inconsistent,” admitted Bartelink. “We were able to steadily pull away as the game went on.”
Holmes and Weinbrecht each had 18 points and nine rebounds, while Dillon Watson provided some good minutes off the bench.
Kicking off the week, the varsity boys defeated Livingston 71-54 in Tuesday action on the home court. The game plan was to force the Wolves inside, as the team is known for its shooting abilities beyond the arc.
That didn’t happen in the first half.
“They hit eight 3’s in the first half, six of them in the second quarter,” Bartelink said. “We let them get loose and that’s how they survive.”
The defense clamped down in the second half, holding the Wolves to just a pair of treys over the third and fourth quarters.
Trailing 37-35 at the half, Escalon pulled away with an 18-7 run in the third and also kept the Wolves at bay in the final frame.
“Dylan Ruiz took three charges for us, Colton Panero took two,” Bartelink added of his defense stepping up.
Holmes had 27 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and three blocks in an all-around monster night. Ruiz had four treys of his own and totaled 17 points, while Clayton Ferreira added 12 points. Ty Harris had seven points, six rebounds and five assists.
The three wins this past week lifted Escalon to a 4-2 record in Trans-Valley League play for the first round and they are 14-8 overall.
“We’ve still got work to do,” Bartelink said.
Escalon kicks off the second half of their TVL schedule hosting Riverbank – who defeated them in the season opener – on Friday night, Jan. 31 for Homecoming. Tip off time at EHS is 7 p.m.
“We’re definitely looking forward to that,” Bartelink said of the Friday night contest. “We’ve got some unfinished business with Riverbank and our guys are pretty motivated.”