Escalon's championship hopes may rest with bats

If Escalon High is going to win the Sac-Joaquin Section baseball title, it looks as if the Cougars will have to slug their way to a championship.

Escalon has allowed at least six runs in three of its last four games, but it has scored 61 runs in those four games.

Plenty of power is being provided by senior catcher Leighton Pangilinan, second in the state with eight homers. He's helping Escalon average 10 runs a game and his .442 batting average has helped lift the team's average to .369.

If Escalon wins the Trans-Valley League, it likely gets nine-time defending champ Central Catholic in the second round. That best-of-three series would pit The Bee's top-ranked small-school teams, with the winner going to the winner-take-all title game.

The section will again use a single-elimination format for the first round of all seven divisions. While Division I will be a true tournament bracket throughout the playoffs, the other divisions play best-of-three in the second round to determine the two finalists.

The format favors teams that have extreme strengths:

Oakdale has used its quality pitching depth to win the last two D-IV titles and again has three strong starters, ideal for a best-of-three series.

Escalon's heavy-hitting lineup could feast on pitching later in the playoffs, as teams use their No. 3 and 4 pitchers.

The D-I playoffs will again be at the University of the Pacific, beginning May 13. The Modesto Metro and Central California teams will be pitted against teams from the two Stockton-area leagues.

SECTION STARSSteve VanderMolen of Ripon Christian is fourth in the section with a .607 batting average. ... Modesto's Calvin Thomas and Bret Harte's Chris Pile are tied for third with five homers. ... Waterford's C.J. De Deaux is tied for third with 26 RBIs. ... Hughson's Jake Etcheverry is second with a .718 on-base percentage. ... Denair's Dylan Souza is fifth with 17 stolen bases. ... Oakdale's Justin Jones is one of four pitchers with a 0.00 ERA, and the district has the top strikeout pitchers: Pitman's Tyler Harris (62), Bret Harte's Trevor Miller (61) and Buhach Colony's Dylan Floro (60). ... Central Catholic's Billy Flamion and Harris share the lead with six wins. ...

For softball, Escalon's Caitlin Brooks is fourth with a 0.30 ERA, second with 179 strikeouts and tops the section with 16 victories. ... Buhach Colony's Alex Molina is tied for third with 15 pitching wins.

NOMINEES — There were plenty of quality nominees for The Bee's Prep of the Week award, including:

Johansen freshman pitcher Lizzie Perez, who dominated Davis and Enochs during 15 innings of work. She had 22 strikeouts, allowed only four hits in the 15 innings, and did not allow an earned run. She lost 1-0 to Davis on an error in the bottom of the eleventh.

Pitman senior Tyler Harris, who fired a four-hit shutout with no walks and seven strikeouts to beat Merced 2-0. It was the fourth shutout and sixth complete game this season for Harris (6-1, 1.14 ERA).

Beyer's Doug Azevedo, the No. 1 singles player who enjoyed two 6-0, 6-0, wins to raise his Modesto Metro Conference record to 11-0. In the prestigious Clovis Tournament earlier this season, he was 5-1 with his lone loss to the top player from Sanger.