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Varsity, JV Notch Two Wins, Frosh Boys Net Three
Cougar Basketball
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Hassled by the defense, sophomore Ben Fletcher, 22, looks for a teammate open in the key during first half action of Friday night’s varsity boys basketball game. Ripon Christian took the Homecoming contest from host Escalon, 70-47. Marg Jackson/The Times

Escalon’s varsity basketball boys got two wins in three games this week but lost the one they really wanted to get, falling in their Friday night Homecoming contest.

They defeated Orestimba and Riverbank, then fell to Ripon Christian.

The boys opened up play at home against Orestimba on Monday, Jan. 24 with a make-up of a game postponed from Dec. 21. The final was 68-37 Escalon, with Russell Weinbrecht leading the way with 18 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, with four of his buckets from beyond the arc.

“We came out and started the game playing at a high level and continued to extend the lead each quarter. Russ had three three-pointers and Jack (Anderson) had two three-pointers in the first quarter,” said coach Nate Bartelink. “Joey (Fross) had a great second quarter with nine points. We were able to get playing time for everyone. We had nine different players score.”

Jack Anderson and Fross each ended the night with 13 points; Anderson had three treys, Fross added six rebounds. DeSean Owens scored 11 points and Ben Fletcher put in six in the win.

On Wednesday, it was back to Trans-Valley League play, on the road at Riverbank. The game went in the books as a 66-49 victory for the Cougars. Escalon built up a 40-29 lead at the half and then withstood a Bruin rally to get the win.

“Last time we played them, we played at a really high level. I expected it to be tougher this time around in their gym. They always play better in front of their crowd,” noted Bartelink. “We had a good first quarter, which hasn’t always been the case for us this year on the road. Our defense was playing at a high level and we were taking care of the ball.”

Leading the way again were Jack Anderson and Russell Weinbrecht.

“Jack came out blazing with four three-pointers in the first quarter. Our second quarter was even better. For that eight-minute stretch, I don’t think I’ve seen this group play better on the road,” Bartelink added. “Russ played amazing in the first half, scoring 18 points, 14 in the second quarter. In the second half, Riverbank showed a lot of fight. They increased the pressure, which we didn’t handle well, especially in the fourth quarter.”

Riverbank cut the lead to a dozen points late in the fourth, but Bartelink said his team was able to make enough plays down the stretch, getting the satisfying road victory. Owens got high marks for his efforts guarding the Bruins’ best player for most of the game.

“Along with his teammates playing good defense behind him, we held him to six points. It was a satisfying win against a program that I have a lot of respect for,” Bartelink said.

Weinbrecht ended the game with 24 points (three 3’s) and 14 rebounds; Jack Anderson had 17 points, including five treys; Fross had 16 and Owens added seven.

In Friday’s Homecoming, it was a 70-47 loss to the league leading Ripon Christian Knights. Escalon did have a 19-15 lead after the first quarter but was outscored by RC in each of the final three quarters, as the Knights stretched out their lead.

“We knew we had a challenge front of us with RC coming to town. They were undefeated in league and had won their previous seven games,” explained Bartelink. “We lost to them last time in their gym by eight points on their Homecoming so we thought a couple tweaks to the game plan would allow us to have a little more success this time around. We came out and fed off of our crowd’s energy early in the game. I haven’t seen a crowd like that in our gym for a few years. It was an amazing environment.”

The varsity Cougar boys played up to the expectations of the crowd early on, with the stands packed on each side of the gym and vocal student sections for both teams.

“We played really well offensively to start the game. With that said, in the first quarter, we made some defensive mistakes that weren’t apparent to most people, as we had the lead,” Bartelink noted. “Those mistakes continued throughout the rest of the game, as our offense then began to struggle. Some of our struggles offensively were due to RC’s size, which is always tough to play against, and some of it was our shot selection and lack of ball movement. We also didn’t shoot the ball very well, which is usually a good indicator on if we are going to have success or not.”

The tide started to turn in the second quarter, as Ripon Christian went on a 24-9 run to lead it 39-28 at the half.

“When our team is not able to generate high quality looks for Jack (Anderson) and Sean (Owens), who are great shooters, we tend to have a tough time scoring against quality opponents. RC took the lead midway through the second quarter and extended the lead throughout the rest of the game,” said Bartelink. “We didn’t score the last five minutes of the game, having to force a lot of difficult shots during our comeback attempt; turning a 15 point deficit into the final margin of 23 points.”

Fross had 20 points, including three three-pointers and Weinbrecht continued a string of double-doubles with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Bartelink said it was a tough night in that the defense let the team down, but he also pointed to the work of Ripon Christian, giving the Knights credit for playing well in a big game on the road.

“We didn’t rise to the occasion, which is disappointing,” admitted the coach. “I’d like to thank the community for coming out to support us. I hope we can take care of business the next two weeks and hopefully earn a home playoff game and recreate a similar environment.”

The varsity went into this week’s contests with a 15-8 overall record, 4-3 in the Trans-Valley League.

A packed schedule this week has the boys playing Tuesday at Ripon (they are 7-1 in TVL play; second place), Thursday home vs. Livingston, Friday home vs. Hughson for Senior Night.


Junior Varsity

After beating Orestimba and Riverbank in their first two games of the week, the Escalon junior varsity Cougars gave Ripon Christian just about everything they could handle. Ultimately, the JV squad fell just a few points short in a 55-52 loss but battled the visiting Knights until the final buzzer on Friday night. Ripon Christian came in holding on to first place in league. They looked very much like the TVL front runners, taking a 19-8 lead after one quarter and enjoying a 29-16 advantage at the half. But the JV squad from Escalon kept pace with the Knights, 17-17, in the third and then roared back to outscore the visitors 19-9 over the final eight minutes to keep the crowd on its feet. Ethan Garza had a 20-plus point night for Escalon.

Earlier in the week, in the non-league make-up game with Orestimba, Escalon got a 54-39 win and then they went to Riverbank and won that TVL contest by a 66-53 final.



It was a perfect 3-0 week for the youngest Cougar boys on the basketball court.

First year head coach Steve Largent said his team defeated Orestimba by a 45-33 final, got the league win at Riverbank, 43-23, and opened up the Homecoming trio of games on Friday night with a hard fought 35-31 win over Ripon Christian.

Daniel Gonzalez had 14 points against Orestimba; Ryan Murphy added eight while Dom Arauza, Preston Berhorst and Nathan Belletto each had seven points.

At Riverbank, playing the Bruins for the second time in five days, Gonzalez again paced the team, this time with 12 points. Arauza had 10 and Murphy scored eight.

Friday night, it was the team’s best performance of the season, said Largent.

It was the third time the teams have played each other, the Knights upending Escalon in the holiday tournament hosted by the Cougars in late December and then defeating them earlier in league play. This time, it was a four quarter effort from the freshman Cougars and it made the difference.

“We talked strategy,” Largent said, noting they worked to hold the team’s top shooter down and were fairly successful. Meanwhile, Belletto took over the game for Escalon, scoring seven of his eight points in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter to help the freshmen take the win.

Murphy had 12 points on the night and Largent said Escalon outscored RC 11-6 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

Freshman Ryan Lewis, 33, at right, playing for the JV basketball Cougars, battles against a couple of Ripon Christian opponents, all looking to corral the rebound on Friday night. The final score was 55-52 in favor of the JV Knights. Marg Jackson/The Times