Two huge wins – including a solid effort on Friday night before a huge Homecoming crowd – made for a successful week for the varsity boys basketball team. The Cougars improved to 2-2 in Trans-Valley League action with the victories.
“Coming in, without a doubt this was our biggest week of the season. We’ve all known that Ripon and Livingston would be two of the teams within the TVL that we’d be competing with for a top-three finish, which is an automatic playoff qualifier,” said head coach Nate Bartelink. “We haven’t been playing our best basketball of late, so I was looking forward to seeing how we responded. We answered the call.”
At Ripon, it took double overtime to get the win. The Cougars trailed 19-17 at the half and Ripon went on big run in the third but Escalon equaled that in the fourth to send the game to overtime. The teams traded points, 5-5, in the first overtime and Escalon edged out the home team by a 59-57 final in the Jan. 11 contest.
“We struggled offensively in this one. Ethan Garza re-entered the line-up after sitting out at RC with an ankle injury. Unfortunately, he re-aggravated the same injury midway through the first quarter. He showed a lot of toughness, trying to play through it, but ultimately after the first couple possessions in the third quarter we decided to pull him from the game,” Bartelink said. “Even though he was trying to be out there for his teammates, he couldn’t move well and it was in his best interest to sit him down, to not cause the injury to become even worse. Besides not having our best playmaker, a guy that can get into the paint and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, we stood around too much on offense and did not make the defense work.”
Luckily for the Cougars, Bartelink said, Jack Anderson was able to keep them afloat the first three quarters, scoring 16 of their 23 points going in to the fourth.
“We trailed by 15 going into the fourth quarter and with how we were struggling offensively, things weren’t looking good. We were still trailing by 14 with 3:35 left in the game and then all of a sudden, some momentum started to shift in our favor. A couple steals led to a couple buckets. We still trailed by 11 with 1:50 left in the game, and nine with 1:30 left.”
Ripon’s best player then got a technical foul, the Cougars made the two free-throws and scored a basket following the technical foul, trimming the lead to 5. A logan Huebner putback tied the game, sending it to OT.
“Sammy Jimenez hit a big three in the second overtime. Our defense, which was solid all night, really got the job done throughout the fourth quarter and both overtimes. The group of guys that finished the game showed a lot of toughness, physical and mental, to get find a way to get the win,” said Bartelink. “Jack, Sammy, Logan Huebner, Ben Fletcher and Logan Anderson just made plays over the course of the last 12 minutes.”
Logan Anderson, Huebner and Fletcher scored a combined 20 points in the fourth quarter and both overtimes.
“They really came alive after scoring a combined two points through the first three quarters. I can’t think of a more unlikely win that I’ve ever been a part of, in regards to how that fourth quarter comeback played out,” explained Bartelink. “I couldn’t have been prouder of the guys for not giving up and finding a way to get the win. Beating Ripon, in their gym, the way we did, will be a memory our boys will have forever.”
Jack Anderson had 20 points, Fletcher nine, Jimenez eight points and 13 rebounds, Logan Anderson with seven points, and Huebner with six points and 11 rebounds.
Friday night for Homecoming, Ecalon had the scoring edge throughout the game, leading 38-18 at the half, and ultimately winning by a 75-52 decision.
“The players were ultra-focused for this game. We had yet to lose at home on the season, just had a big win against our rival, and it was Homecoming. We knew that the most important part of Homecoming is winning the game. Livingston is a dangerous team; probably the best varsity team they’ve had in a while,” Bartelink said. “They can put up points and play at a pace that can cause problems. The guys executed the defensive gameplan. We collectively held Livingston’s best player to no points on the night, when he routinely scores in the high teens or twenties. I couldn't be happier with how we defended him. On the offensive end, we looked like a different team, in a good way. The ball was moving at a higher pace than it had recently, our cuts were crisper. This is something we really focused on the day before at practice. It was nice to see it carry over to the game.”
The Cougars had great offensive balance; five players scored at least 8 points.
“We were able to get all 15 guys in the game, which is difficult to do. I couldn’t be prouder of how we played on both ends of the court. This is the type of four quarter performance that we are definitely capable of,” the coach added. “We put it together on this night. It’s something we need to consistently do more often to have sustained success. The crowd was great. The environment was amazing. It was a fun night.”
Jack Anderson had 20 points while Sammy Jimenez had 18 points, seven rebounds, and five steals. Logan Huebner added 12 points, and seven rebounds, Zack Valencia put in 10 points, while Ben Fletcher had eight points, four rebounds and four assists.
This week, the Cougars were slated to host Hughson on Tuesday, Jan. 17 and then travel to Hilmar on Jan. 19; Friday is a bye to close out the first half of league play.
“These are two very winnable games. We need to continue to improve and be playing our best basketball over the next month,” Bartelink added.
“We lost to Ripon and Livingston,” said head coach Dave Anderson of a tough week for the JV boys. “We didn’t shoot the ball well at all against Ripon, 9-for-25 from the free throw line.”
Final score in the road game on Jan. 11 was 57-51, the JV Cougars just not quite able to get the points they needed.
Friday at home, they gave up an early 16-8 lead to the Wolves by the end of the first quarter but had a strong second quarter to trail by just one point, 26-25, at the half. A third quarter 19-12 run gave Escalon the lead, 44-38, entering the final frame but the competitive Wolves went on a 20-11 run over the last eight minutes to take the contest by three, 58-55.
Escalon went cold at the free throw line late and also missed some lay-ups down the stretch that could have made the difference in the final score.
“Against Livingston we just didn’t finish the game off like we have consistently this year,” Anderson agreed. “A little careless with the ball and gave up a couple of easy buckets late in the fourth. I feel very confident when facing these two teams again.”
The JV evened their record at 2-2 in league with the week’s losses.
The youngest Cougar boys took a lopsided loss on the road and battled until the final buzzer at home.
“Wednesday we ran into a buzzsaw at Ripon,” head coach Steve Largent said of the Jan. 11 contest. “We didn’t play our best game and struggled against a good trap zone press. The game got away from us before we settled in.”
Hayden Castro chipped in four points on the night; final was 58-24 in favor of the host Ripon squad.
Friday, the Livingston Wolves came to town and kicked off the trio of Homecoming Night contests.
“We lost a heartbreaker in the Cougar Dome,” admitted Largent. “We came out and played our best 32 minutes of the year and played as a unit. We were down one with eight seconds to go and had a chance to win it at the buzzer. Unfortunately, the shot didn’t fall for the good guys and we lost 41-40 in a classic.”
Isaac Petalio scored a career high 31 points.
“He really gave us everything he had,” Largent said.