Unable to hold a late lead at home, the varsity Escalon Lady Cougars basketball team dropped their first Trans-Valley League game of the season to Riverbank. But they rebounded with a road win later in the week at Ripon Christian.
Hosting the Lady Bruins on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the final was 58-56 in favor of the visiting team.
“We opened up league with Riverbank who, in my opinion, is the team to beat in the league,” said head coach Joseph Dalpogetti. “They returned everyone from their great year last year and also just recently added four transfers from Patterson High School, including one all district player from the 21-22 season.”
Host Escalon had a strong first half, leading 13-12 after one and extending that to a 34-16 lead after two periods.
“We knew they were going to go on a run. They’re too talented not to,” Dalpogetti explained. “We weathered an early storm in the third by using two relatively quick timeouts to stop some bleeding. We answered back and actually led by 11 with two minutes left in the game.”
Escalon’s leading scorer Macie Vickers, however, fouled out with just a couple of minutes to go and Dalpogetti said the team did not control the clock as well as they should have down the stretch.
“We had an unnecessary turnover still trying to push the tempo when we should have been working the clock,” he said. “They also went to the foul game and we missed our free throws, which is essentially just a quick turnover for them when we don’t convert.”
Escalon had gone 9-for-12 in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter – which Dalpogetti said he will “take every day of the week” – but then hit just one-of-eight attempts in the final two minutes.
“They got hot during those two minutes, hitting two 3’s, an old fashioned three-point play, an offensive putback for two and then the game winning buzzer-beating lay up when they went coast to coast with 4.9 seconds left,” Dalpogetti said. “It was as brutal of a loss as you’ll ever see on a basketball court regardless of age or level.”
And as tough a loss as it was, the coach said there were some positives to take away from the experience.
“I was very proud of the girls for their effort. The fact that we could have that loaded of a team down 18 at half and down 11 with two minutes to go just says we can hang with anyone,” he pointed out. “And we are doing it with girls who all attended middle school here or played JV basketball in our program.”
Sammy Lang paced the effort with 16 points on the night; Chloe Farley had 12 and Macie Vickers added 10. Lang had five steals, Vickers and Farley each had 11 rebounds.
So, with an 0-1 TVL record, the girls went on the road, traveling to face Ripon Christian on Thursday, Jan. 5. They did get the win, 40-34, but it wasn’t easy.
“I was a little concerned we would be flat due to the emotional loss on Tuesday and I was right,” Dalpogetti said. “We shot a measly 22 percent from the floor in the first half and not much better in the second.”
The team shot under 27 percent from the floor for the game and was just 5-of-13 from the free throw line on the night.
“Luckily, your defense always travels with you,” Dalpogetti said. “We were able to hold their great guard Maddie Yonker to nine points below her average.”
Escalon had a two-point lead at the half and then fired off a burst of three-point shots to give them a double-digit lead late in the game.
“Kelsey Webster had two 3’s in the third, Analise Silveira hit one in the fourth and Sofia Brasil came in the game late and hit two corner 3’s,” said Dalpogetti. “We held on to win after a late 9-1 run by the Knights. Mike Vander Molen does a great job over there. They know who they are and they know who they are not and they make you work for it.”
Vickers had 13 points to lead the team in the win; Lang had 12 rebounds from her point guard position.
Escalon ended the week at 10-5 overall and though it wasn’t where they expected to be at this point, the coach said they have only been at full strength for one game so far, a Nov. 22 contest against Waterford.
“Every game since then we have been missing at least one starter, sometimes two,” Dalpogetti noted. “We probably dropped a few games along the way we wouldn’t have but we are always learning and trying to get better.”
They also missed the opportunity to defend a tournament title they won in Waterford in the 2021-22 season, as that tournament was not played this year due to lack of officials.
They were slated to host Ripon on Tuesday, Jan. 10 and go on the road to face Livingston on Thursday, Jan. 12.
Escalon’s junior varsity girls also saw a split of their games to open up league play this past week. They were winners on the home court, taking down Riverbank with a 49-15 victory. They fell short at Ripon Christian, losing by a 37-24 final in the Jan. 5 road game.