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St. Mary’s wins BSAL title, earns berth to playoffs

By Tim Haran Special to the Daily Planet
Monday February 26, 2001

After St. Mary’s jumped to a 21-8 lead at the end of the first quarter in the BSAL title game against Salesian Saturday night, it appeared that the Panthers were on its way to recording yet another blowout in a season filled with lopsided victories.  

But the championship game was no rout as St. Mary’s narrowly defeated the taller Salesian team 62-59 in front of a standing-room-only crowd in Berkeley to claim the Bay Shore Athletic League title. 

“I’m just really proud of these kids tonight,” said St. Mary’s coach Jose Caraballo. “They played hard all year long and they really deserve this win. I’m sure we’ll see Salesian again." 

Saturday’s win came after St. Mary’s lost in the championship game to Salesian last year in an overtime thriller when the teams were part of the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League. The victory this year gives St. Mary’s (24-4 overall) an automatic berth into the North Coast Section playoffs where they’ll likely be the No. 1 seed in Division IV. Salesian (23-5), meanwhile, should earn the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. St. Mary’s led most of the night, but saw its lead evaporate midway through the fourth quarter when the Chieftains’ James Johnson scored two of his game-high 19 points on a drive to the basket with 2:39 remaining. The bucket capped a 16-6 fourth quarter Chieftains run and gave Salesian its first lead since the game’s opening minute.  

The teams traded hoops and St. Mary’s clung to a 60-59 lead with less than a minute left when Panthers’ forward Chase Moore scored the final two of his team-high 18 points. With 46 seconds remaining St. Mary’s now led by three and had possession of the ball. Forward Jeremiah Fielder broke free from a pair of Chieftains defenders to get an open look at the basket with 10 seconds on the clock, but he couldn’t get the shot to fall that would have clinched the win 

Following a Salesian time out, the Chieftains pushed the ball the length of the court and John Winston launched a 3-pointer that would have tied the game, but the shot fell short. 

St. Mary’s controlled the pace of the game early and jumped to an 11-2 lead that turned into a 13-point advantage at the end of one. The Panthers capitalized on its typical scrappy full-court pressure defense that forced Salesian to turn the ball over eight times in the period.  

"We had a really good first quarter," Caraballo said. "They made some good adjustments on us, but we showed that we know if it’s a close game we’ll be able to persevere and come out on top." The first-quarter dominance proved to be enough for St. Mary’s to hold on as Salesian outscored the Panthers 17-11 in the second and 20-14 in the fourth quarter. 

St. Mary’s aggressive defense resulted in Moore picking up his fourth personal foul in the third quarter and center Simon Knight fouling out midway through the fourth. Knight’s fifth foul came on a bizarre five-point play that saw Salesian drain a 3-pointer and then hit two free throws that were awarded for a St. Mary’s foul away from the ball. 

“Everybody just stepped up tonight,” said St. Mary’s guard DaShawn Freeman, who finished the game with 12 points. “Our team played with a lot of heart and we really wore out the other team. They couldn’t keep up with our pace.” 

Moore, who pulled down six rebounds and led the Panthers with 10 fourth-quarter points, recognized the value of competing down to the wire, especially with the playoffs ahead. 

“People don’t think we can handle it, but coach told us to just do it and he has confidence in all of us that we can step it up and get it done. Big-time players step up in big-time games,” he said. 

Salesian finished the night 13-of-22 from the free-throw line, but Winston missed two key foul shots with under a minute to play that would have brought the Chieftains to within a point of St. Mary’s. The Panthers, meantime, hit just 3-of-6 from the line. 

John Sharper added 10 points while Lorenzo Alexander tossed in six points and grabbed seven boards off the bench. For Salesian, Johnson led all scorers with 19, David Jobe added 13 and Winston scored 11 points.