By Tim Haran
Daily Planet Correspondent
A track meet broke out at the basketball game between Berkeley High and Skyline (Oakland) Friday night, and the visiting Yellowjackets escaped with a 59-54 victory over a much taller Titans team.
Outrunning Skyline and using a pressure defense to force numerous turnovers, Berkeley captured a season-opening win under the team’s new head coach, Mike Gragnani.
“We had a lot of guys who did a great job pressuring the ball,” said Gragnani. “It was good to get the tempo up to where we like to play.”
The ’Jackets led most of the night, but with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter, Skyline’s towering 6-foot-8 senior Tremaine Fuqua grabbed a rebound off a Titans’ miss and scored an easy put-back from two feet out to deadlock the game at 52.
The hoop finished a seven-minute run that saw the Titans outscore the ’Jackets 16-6. With just over a minute left in the game, Berkeley’s Ryan Davis knocked down a three-pointer with four seconds remaining on the shot clock to give his team the lead. A pair of clutch free throws by Ramone Reed and another bucket and pair of free throws by Davis clinched the victory.
“I owe it all to the team,” Gragnani said following his first victory at Berkeley. “They played their butts off tonight.”
Davis, who also started his first game as a ’Jacket after transferring to Berkeley from Lincoln (San Francisco), played the game with a tendon strain in his knee. Still, the injury didn’t prevent the senior from playing scrappy full-court defense and hitting key shots late in the game.
“Coach stressed team defense at practices,” he said. “Our whole practice was on defense and I think we really stepped up our D tonight.”
Berkeley set the pace of the game from the start. The team posted an early 9-4 lead before Skyline rebounded to take a one-point advantage after the first quarter.
Berkeley traded leads with the Titans throughout the second quarter, but heading into the locker room the ’Jackets were up 31-27, helped by two steals and a 15-foot jumper by Davis with under a minute to go in the half.
“We have to play fast,” Gragnani said. “We’re not very big and against a team that has a lot of size, we have to score early. When they are able to get five guys back on defense, it’s tough for us to get the ball inside.”
Berkeley was definitely the smaller of the two teams Friday. In addition to Fuqua, the Titans had another three or four players who towered over the ’Jackets biggest players.
Keeping Skyline’s Fuqua contained during the first half, Berkeley didn’t allow him many good looks at the basket. But the dominating senior – who, according to his mother, hasn’t visited any colleges yet but is interested in playing for San Francisco or Washington – exploded with four easy buckets in the third quarter as well as several key rebounds and a blocked shot midway through the period.
“We didn’t want (Fuqua) to get anything easy,” Gragnani said. “We wanted to get one of our guys in front and another in back of him all the time. Overall I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Berkeley faces Balboa in San Francisco on Tuesday before heading to the Spartan Classic at De La Salle, where Gragnani matches up against his old team, St. Ignatius (San Francisco), on Dec. 7.