Escalon freshman Arianna Velasco guards Colfax's Jade Biitner during the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships at UC Davis (Samantha Schmidt).

Making history: Escalon girls reach first section final but lose to Colfax

Ron Agostini

DAVIS — The Escalon High Cougars made their first-ever appearance in a Sac-Joaquin Section girls basketball title game Friday night and, yes, there were nerves.

“We tried visualization and breathing techniques in the locker room,” coach Joe Dalpogetti said. “I could just tell when we took the floor. I could tell they were nervous. I could see the look on their faces.”

The butterflies keynoted a seven-point first quarter and a game-long uphill slog leading to a 64-48 loss to Colfax in the Division IV championship game at UC Davis' UCU Center. The history-making Cougars (28-3) collided with the best team it’s seen all season, and the result wasn’t exactly a shock.

“It looked like a team that’s been here before, against a team that had not,” Dalpogetti said. “It was so frustrating to watch us miss so many layups that we were making all year.”

Macie Vickers shoots for two during the Sac-Joaquin Section championships at UC Davis (Samantha Schmidt).

Dalpogetti, in his 13thseason as coach, was right. Colfax (30-2), a perennial power, defended its title and claimed its 13th blue banner.  Its next step is defending a CIF Northern California title, so the Falcons’ “been there done that” reaction to the victory was no surprise.

What surprised Escalon was a parade of missed shots from close range to open the game. The Cougars never led, in fact, though it scrapped hard and trailed only 29-21 at the half. It should have been closer if not for a disappointing closing sequence.

Colfax’s 5-foot-11 post Juliette James (18 points, 17 rebounds) hit a free throw, followed by an Escalon technical foul. Sophomore Madalyn Sigrist connected on two free throws, and the Cougars never closed to within eight points again.

 “Against Colfax, they’re going to make you pay for that every time,” Dalpogetti said.

Freshman starter Arianna Velasco dribbles past opponent Laurlyn Massick (Samantha Schmidt).

How Escalon got here was amazing. Macie Vickers (15 points), a Nebraska softball commit, missed 19 games this season due to a sore back. Madison Babasa, a sophomore, is another softball standout. Arianna Velasco (16 points), a promising freshman, is one of the few year-round basketball players.

Vickers, who picked up the costly technical, admitted her error and also said she probably was only about 75 percent fit. Still, she anchored Escalon’s tenacity against a  skilled opponent.

 “I felt like from the tip we were kind of fighting it the whole game,” Vickers said. “We didn’t even get even with them or get ahead. …They (Colfax) are good. They have good athletes.”

Colfax, good enough to beat Division III champion Vista del Lago by double digits last December, accelerated after halftime.  The Falcons controlled the tempo via occasional full-court and trapping pressure and built an overwhelming 56-32 rebounding advantage.

 They crashed the glass effectively and sparked transition hoops by Jade Biittner (11 points), while Laurlyn Massick (10 points, 18 rebounds) hurt the Cougars at both ends. Kaia Diederichs, a soccer star, also starred with 17 points.

Sammy Lang jumps into the air for an underhand shot during the Sac-Joaquin Section game against Colfax (Samantha Schmidt).

 Colfax’s aggressive guards also defended Escalon senior Sammy Lang, the team’s leading scorer entering the game (15 points per game). She finished with eight points, four in the fourth period.

The Cougars can look ahead with Velasco, who hit on six of her 11 shots and four of five from the line despite early foul trouble.

“Ari is an incredible athlete,” Dalpogetti said. “I can’t wait to see what she develops into.”

 Escalon won’t know about its CIF Northern California Regionals assignment until Sunday when the brackets are announced.  The Cougars will enter the season’s final phase, however, knowing what they’ve already done is something special.

“I honestly never thought Escalon girls basketball would make it to a section championship,” Dalpogetti  said. “They competed every day in practice and they go at each other and play for each other.”

Colfax 64, Escalon 48

Escalon             7-14-14-13—48

Colfax               11-18-17-18—64

Escalon (28-3) – Arianna Velasco 16, Macie Vickers 15, Madison Babasa 9, Sammy Lang 8. Totals 14 19-26.

Colfax (30-2)—Juliette James 18, Kaia Diederichs 17, JadeBiittner 11, Laurlyn Massick 10, Madalyn Sigrist 6, Maya Smiley 2. Totals 23 14-1764.

3-Pt Goals—Escalon 1 (Babasa), Colfax 4 (Massick 2, Biittner, Diederichs). Team Fouls – Escalon 12, Colfax 20. Fouled Out – No one. FG % -- Escalon 14-50 (28 %), Colfax 23-69 (33 %). Rebounds – Escalon 32 (Vickers 10), Colfax 56 (Massick 18, James 17). Turnovers – Escalon 15, Colfax17. Assists – Escalon 7, Colfax 19.