ESCALON -- A few weeks into the baseball season, Escalon High coach Greg Largent already knew how he wanted to spend his Memorial Day.
"We want a final shot at Central Catholic before it goes to a new division next year," Largent said. "We almost got them a few years ago in the section final. That's our goal this season, to get it done."
Two months later, the Cougars will get their opportunity when they face 10-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion Central Catholic for the Division 5 crown.
It could be for a state title, as well.
Escalon is No. 2 in CalHiSports' state small-school rankings and Central is No. 3. Woodcrest Christian of Riverside is ranked No. 1, but it plays in the rugged Southern Section and has two difficult games to play.
Should Woodcrest falter, the winner of today's game vaults into the top spot and will be a state champion.
Today's game is at 3 p.m. at Lodi's Zupo Field, preceded by Mariposa vs. Golden Sierra for the D-6 title at noon and followed by Oakdale vs. El Dorado for the D-4 title at 6.
Escalon (24-3) and Central Catholic (22-3) had a thriller a few years ago, with the Cougars rallying from a six-run deficit to tie it at 8. The Raiders, though, scored twice in the sixth for a 10-8 win.
The Cougars got to the final by winning three playoff games by a combined 30-4, sweeping Livingston in the best-of-three series. Central Catholic needed to go to Game 3 to beat Linden, after being blown out in Game 2.
Both teams are expected to throw their aces, Escalon's Brandon Shaw and Central Catholic's Billy Flamion.
Flamion has won two of the three playoff games and can be just as dominant at the plate or in the field. He plays center when not on the mound: Pro scouts and college recruiters say his future is bright as an outfielder.
While Escalon and Central Catholic are the Stanislaus District's most successful small-school programs this past decade, the chasm between the two is enormous: While the Raiders are on a section-record 10-year streak of titles, Escalon has just one section title in its history.