In dramatic fashion, the Escalon High baseball team returns to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship after a three-year hiatus.
The Cougars advanced to their 11th section final by taking two of three against Dixon, a team coach Greg Largent said was “like looking in a mirror.”
Top-seeded Escalon (26-5) defeated the No. 4 Rams in the if-necessary game on Saturday, 1-0, earning the right to challenge Capital Christian, the perennial champion, on Memorial Day.
“They’ve got the baton right now and they’ve controlled it for four years,” Largent said. “They run a great program, but you still have to hit the ball, catch the ball and make the plays.”
First pitch is 3 p.m.
Capital Christian (24-6) is seeking its fifth consecutive Division V crown. Ironically, the run began in 2013 with a 3-1 victory Escalon, then the three-time defending champion.
The loss still stings Largent, who said his team never recovered from a rocky first inning. Redemption has been the watchword.
“We’ve preached to the kids that they took it away from us,” said Largent, whose program won section titles from 2010-13. “They’re a good program, but we want to get it back. We want that blue banner back at our place.”
The pressure is mounting on the Cougars, the Trans-Valley League champions and the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.
Largent has received text messages from community members, family and friends, as well as former players, each imploring Escalon “to get back what’s yours.”
“When you grow up in a small town, where you’ve had relatives who played for the Purple and Gold, you don’t want to let them down,” Largent said. “There’s always a high expectation.”
For many of the current players, the bar was set as wannabe Cougars running around the stands at Zupo Field during the three-peat to start the decade.
Catcher Parker Cosby was a batboy in 2013, Largent said, and witnessed the heartache in the dugout following a loss to Capital Christian.
“They know the bar is always high. They remember as little boys going to that game,” Largent added. “They’ve dreamed of playing in that game, and now, it’s like, ‘Hey, it’s a reality.’”
Escalon will either see senior Tyler Pon or Xavier Carter, a 6-foot-4 sophomore brimming with confidence. Carter is 7-2 with a 1.76 ERA. Pon isn’t nearly as intimidating physically, but he is 10-1 with a 1.68 ERA.
Capital Christian traveled a similar path to the final. The Golden Empire League champions took two of three against No. 6 Marysville in their semifinal series.
Carter won both games, allowing two earned runs in 11 innings. Pon had his worst start of the season in a loss to Marysville, giving up six runs on 13 hits.
Escalon mustered just five hits over the final two games of its series with Dixon, so “we’re concerned if the offense will show up,” Largent said.
Escalon will counter with its two-headed monster, senior Justice Naraghi or junior Nick Warren, Escalon’s first pair of 10-game winners in 12 years.
Naraghi tossed a no-hitter against Bret Harte in his first start of the postseason, while Warren leads the section in wins with 12. It’s also the fifth-most win total in the state.
“We’re not holding anything back,” Largent said.