After taking some tough losses over the past couple of weeks, the Escalon varsity basketball boys needed to string some wins together to not only be in postseason contention, but also to have any hope of hosting a first round playoff game.
They did that 'stringing together' in a week that saw them take down three Trans-Valley League opponents.
"It was a big week for Cougar basketball," agreed coach Martin Louro, noting that the squad put wins on the book against Ripon, Orestimba and Hilmar to climb to a 7-5 mark in TVL action.
They started with a road game at Ripon, looking to avenge an earlier season loss at home.
"It was everything it was billed to be," Louro said of the battle. "We took a 57-56 win and we won three out of four quarters, it was what we had to do."
Leading 12-8 after one quarter and 32-26 at the half, Escalon had to withstand a furious Ripon comeback in the third quarter. Down 43-41 after three, Escalon outscored the host squad 16-13 over the final eight minutes to take the one-point win.
"They have one of the best players in league (Cole Herrin) and we designed a game plan for him, our goal was to cut him off," explained Louro.
Herrin, in fact, was in foul trouble for much of the game, battling against the tough defense of the Cougars, and fouled out in the third quarter.
"The kids were playing together, they followed the game plan," Louro added.
The Cougars would build up the lead, only to have the Indians charge back, but the Escalon squad needed the win more. Tied 55-55 with about 30 seconds to play, Ryan Bartelink dished a pass off to Alec VonAlvensleben for what turned out to be an easy basket, Von Alvensleben taking it to the rim for a 57-55 lead. Needing just one more defensive stop, the Cougars got called for a foul that sent Ripon to the free throw line for a chance to tie. Escalon called a time out to ice the shooter and Louro said he told his team that even if it went to overtime, he was confident they would pull out the win. The shooter converted just one of the free throw attempts, sealing the win for Escalon and sending the Cougar faithful swarming out onto the Ripon court.
"Our kids didn't forget how their fans charged the football field when they beat us," Louro said of returning the favor for Ripon's feat in the fall.
The win put Escalon at .500 and they added two more wins later in the week. Against Ripon, Brian Gregorio had 16 points and VonAlvensleben had 15, including the game winner. Phillip Kimble had seven.
Thursday, they hosted Orestimba and cruised to a 27-point victory, putting away the Warriors, 67-40.
"Everybody got in and we did what we should have done to them," Louro said of putting the visitors away early, going on a 21-2 run in the first quarter. A 35-16 lead at halftime grew even larger with a 24-6 scoring edge to put the game away in the third.
VonAlvensleben poured in 16 points, Marvin Guillen added 11 and Jon David had seven points.
"Ryan Bartelink had two 3's and he's starting to get his shot back," Louro said. "It's important for us to have him shooting well, especially heading into playoffs."
Friday on the road at Hilmar, Louro said the team survived a 'chippy' battle, with some of the players admitting they felt more like they'd been involved in a cage match or a rugby game rather than basketball.
"Two years in a row we've been their Homecoming game and two years in a row we've spoiled it for them," Louro said.
Escalon took a 65-48 win, but the game was a pretty rough one, with the Yellowjackets frustrated by a tough season on the hardwood.
Leading just 15-11 after one, Escalon turned it up a notch and went on a 23-13 run in the second to lead 38-24 at halftime.
"I wasn't really happy with our first half, I felt we were letting them do some things but I felt we did a better job defensively in the second half," said Louro.
The coach said he felt there were some flagrant fouls that should have been called, but they did escape with the win and no injuries. VonAlvensleben poured it on with 26 points, Gregorio added 13.
"Everybody chipped in," said Louro.
The Cougars were slated to host Hughson on Tuesday night, after The Times went to press, in a game that Louro said had major post season implications. A win against the Huskies would almost guarantee Escalon a first round home playoff game, a loss would most likely mean they would be on the road.
"Hughson is a team that's been getting better all year," Louro pointed out.