The first time the Berkeley boys’ basketball team faced Pinole Valley this season, they slipped away with a 59-54 win in a tough game that could have gone either way. But thanks to a depleted Pinole Valley squad, the rematch wasn’t nearly as exciting.
The Yellowjackets (18-5 overall, 9-0 ACCAL) blew past the visiting team on Friday night at Donahue Gymnasium 67-58, taking advantage of a Spartan team that was missing three starters due to academics. Although Pinole Valley’s (12-9, 5-3) remaining starters, Mike Gates and John Chapple, combined to score 38 points, the rest of the team was tentative and ineffective against the Berkeley press.
Gates, the Spartans’ leading scorer, had a rough game, turning the ball over seven times and looking out of control on several drives to the basket. Berkeley’s rugged forward Ramone Reed guarded him for much of the game.
“Ramone Reed can guard anyone in this league. Hell, he can guard anyone in this state,” Berkeley head coach Mike Gragnani said. “We didn’t have to do anything to Gates besides put Ramone on him.”
The ’Jackets were led by point guard Ryan Davis’s 24 points, while shooting guard and defensive specialist Byron St. Jules pitched in with 14.
“I had my worst game against Pinole Valley the first time, and I wasn’t going to let it happen again,” said St. Jules, a senior.
Berkeley is now clearly in the driver’s seat in the ACCAL race, three games ahead of the second place team.
“It feels great to come in here in my first year and take control of the ACCAL,” Gragnani said. “But I’m really not satisfied with the way we played tonight.”
St. Jules got Berkeley going early, pulling down two rebounds and taking them coast-to-coast for layups. Guard Muhammed Nitoto came off the bench to give the team an early spark, getting two steals and two assists in the first period. But Gates scored six points early to keep his team in the game at 11-8.
The ’Jackets started to pull ahead for good when Davis put back his own shot and was fouled. He hit the free throw to put his team up 18-12, then center Jahi Milton converted a layup to give Berkeley a 20-12 lead after the first quarter.
After Gates hit the first bucket of the second period, the ’Jackets went on a 9-0 run, keyed by two more Nitoto dishes, both to St. Jules for layups. When Davis got another putback right at the buzzer, Berkeley was up 35-18 at the half.
St. Jules, who struggled in the teams’ first game, scored 12 points in the first half, most of them from penetration into the lane.
“I know my best offense is going to the hole,” the senior said. “I’m doing it more in games now, because that’s where I’m strongest.”
Davis hit a three-pointer early in the second half to double up on the Spartans, 40-20. But Berkeley’s defensive intensity lagged, and Gates and Chapple led their team back into contention, ending the period down by 14. Gates hit a three to open the fourth quarter, and Chapple made two free throws, and the Berkeley lead was down to nine points.
“We got ahead 40-20 and our defense completely shut down,” Gragnani said.
“Whenever we get a cushion, we should put teams away,” Davis said. “But we don’t have that killer instinct we need.”
But the Spartans couldn’t get any closer until there were only 30 seconds left in the game, and when Atticus Honore made a layup and was fouled soon after, the game was decided.