Escalon ends Central's section run

LODI -- It's the game Spencer Franceschetti has been waiting for since he took his first swing for Escalon High.

"We knew it was going to be intense, but we're an emotional team so that's OK with us," the senior shortstop said. "It doesn't get bigger than this."

Actually, it does get bigger if you can beat Central Catholic, the 10-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion.

Escalon not only ended the streak, it did so in record fashion: Monday's 15-4 romp set a record as the most lopsided Division 5 title game ever.

Central (22-4) had given up a total of 14 runs in its last seven section finals combined. The last time the Raiders did not win the section was 1999.

"Not only did we have Central to get us fired up, we also had last year in the back of our minds," said Franceschetti. "We all remembered that."

The Cougars were 26-0 heading into the playoffs last year, and lost their first game -- sending them home at 26-1.

They made sure that didn't happen this year, losing early this season. Once the playoffs began, it was clear that there would be no stopping them.

Escalon outscored its four foes 45-8, winning three by at least 10 runs. A six-run seventh inning made sure Central was a double-digit loser.

Now the Cougars will wait to see if CalHiSports crowns them a state champion: Escalon was No. 2 in the state and Central was No. 3 coming in. No. 1 Woodcrest Christian of Riverside is in the Southern Section semifinals next week.

"We weren't intimidated by Central," Escalon coach Greg Largent said. "Our guys have that same swagger. Some people think we're cocky, but it's just the confidence we have."

It would take more than confidence, however, to beat Central lefty Billy Flamion: He had a 9-1 record and 2.82 ERA. Flamion started strong, ending the first by striking out cleanup hitter Nick Largent.

It was Central's high point.

The Cougars spent the rest of the day crushing the ball, scoring six in the second and six more in the seventh. As if 14 hits weren't enough, the Raiders helped by walking eight batters and hitting five.

"The key was that we kept hitting after we got six in the second," Largent said. "Central got within 6-4, and that's when you start thinking 'are they going to come back.' "

Aaron Pangilinan, who had missed much of the year with a high ankle sprain, stole the momentum back with a two-run homer in the fourth.

"A lot his pitches were coming in belt high," Pangilinan said. "He was missing, so we stayed back and waited for him to bring in that strike."

In the six-run second, hefty No. 9 hitter Travis Cardoza put his weight into one of those and sent it about 400 feet over the left-field wall. He doubled to deep left in his next at-bat,

"With this group, hitting is contagious," Franceschetti said. "The guy in front of you gets a hit, then you feel like it's your turn. We all love to hit."

It wasn't the pitchers' duel that many expected: Escalon started junior ace Brandon Shaw -- 8-0 with a 1.37 ERA. He lasted into the sixth, before Matt Valencia came in to finish it. Shaw walked five, hit four and allowed five hits.

Shaw escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second by retiring cleanup hitter C.J. Carson on a grounder to third. He hit two batters in the fourth, but struck out Justin Pawek -- hitting .387 with a team-high 34 runs -- to end it.

Afterward, Largent pointed to Justin Martinez as one of the reasons for the victory. Martinez lost his father this spring and the Cougars said they were committed to honoring him by winning a title.

"It's been pretty emotional, especially these last weeks," Greg Largent said. "The kids have played their hearts out. You hear that a lot, I know, but it's the truth this time."