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Berkeley falls to defending state champ De La Salle in NCS semis

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Saturday March 03, 2001

Combine an excellent opponent, an unfamiliar court and a cold shooting day, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. All those ingredients came together on Friday night for the Berkeley boys’ basketball team, and the Yellowjackets ended their season with a 66-32 loss to defending state champion De La Salle in the North Coast Section semifinals at St. Mary’s College. 

Starting with a horrid first quarter that saw the ’Jackets hit just one of their 11 shots and ending with a 27-7 fourth quarter onslaught from the top-seeded Spartans, the game was never really in doubt. Although Berkeley managed to cut the deficit to six points at the half, they couldn’t get good shots, taking long jumpers and mad dashes into the lane.  

“We had a goal of getting the ball inside, and we weren’t able to do that,” Berkeley head coach Mike Gragnani said. “They matched up really well, and every time we got an opening, they shut it down. They made us play their game.” 

The Berkeley defense held up well until the fourth quarter, when the Spartans broke out with an 11-point run that put the game well out of reach at 50-25. After Berkeley forward Ramone Reed hit two free throws, De La Salle piled on seven more points before coach Frank Allocco removed his starters. 

The ’Jackets never got going offensively, and shot just 11-of-47 from the floor, including 0-for-14 on three-pointers. No Berkeley player scored more than eight points, and just one, center Jahi Milton, made even half of his shots. 

“They certainly didn’t make our lives any easier, but we just had an off-night,” said senior forward Louis Riordan. 

“When you’re playing the defending state champion, you can get overly pumped-up,” Gragnani said. “But the fact that we’re here this year will help us when we get back to the same point next year.” 

The Spartans, on the other hand, took quality shots and were 24-of-43 from the floor. Senior guard Joe See had 20 points, and fellow seniors Charles Brown and DeMetrius Williams had 12 and 14, respectively. 

Berkeley started the game by missing its first six shots, an ominous sign. Nearly six minutes were gone before Riordan made a layup, the ’Jackets’ lone field goal of the quarter. 

The ’Jackets came out with renewed energy in the second quarter, as Ryan Davis hit a leaner and drew a foul, followed by a Byron St. Jules drive for a layup. Reed pulled down a long rebound and found Riordan for a layup soon after, and the Spartans’ lead was cut to 12-10. But Brown came back and nailed a three, and See did the same on the next possession. Even when Davis hit a jumper at the buzzer, the ’Jackets were down 22-16 at halftime. 

Senior forward Williams made sure Berkeley would get no closer, converting a steal into an easy layup, then hitting a three to put his team up 30-20. He scored seven points in the quarter, and the Spartans had a 39-25 lead heading into the final period.  

Williams, who will be teammates with Berkeley’s Reed on the Oregon football team next year, made another three to open the fourth, then picked off another Berkeley pass and took it home for a ferocious dunk, putting an exclamation point on the Spartans’ victory. 

“They smelled the blood in the water, and they finished us off,” Gragnani said. 

The Spartans will face No. 3 Bishop O’Dowd for the NCS title on Saturday at St. Mary’s at 2 p.m. 

Overall, Berkeley’s season has to be considered a remarkable success. Returning just two players with varsity experience, the ’Jackets finished the year with a 15-game winning streak before the final loss, including a perfect 12-0 record in the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League. Gragnani, who completed his first year with Berkeley with a 22-6 overall record, said he was extremely proud of what the team accomplished. 

“It’s been a wonderful first year,” he said. “I knew I was going to like it, but I couldn’t ask for anything more.” 

Riordan, who was in his third year on the Berkeley varsity, said this season was his favorite. 

“We went through a lot, but I feel like we’re a family. We met my expectations for the season. The season was great, and I love this team.”