The St. Mary’s Panthers were facing a five-point deficit at halftime of Tuesday’s game against Berkeley High, but there was no panic in the locker room, no doubting of whether they could come back to win the game.
“My kids have been in that position a lot, and they never think they’re going to lose,” St. Mary’s head coach Jose Caraballo said. “We just played our game in the second half.”
The Panthers came out and used their defensive pressure to key a 17-9 third quarter advantage, then extended the lead to nine points in the fourth quarter on the way to a 58-49 win over their cross-town rivals.
St. Mary’s returns eight players from last season’s Division IV state champion team, while Berkeley has just three returning players, none of whom started last season.
St. Mary’s guard John Sharper led all scorers with 17 points, including 10 in the second half, while getting used to running the team as a point guard. Starter DeShawn Freeman is out until January with an injury, so Sharper will slide over from his shooting guard spot until Freeman’s return.
Sharper’s shooting was a bit off on Tuesday, as he was just 6-for-19 from the field, but the senior had 7 assists and 3 steals in the game. He also scored 8 points during the Panthers’ dominating third quarter.
“I was rushing it a little in the first half,” Sharper said. “I just had to let the game come to me.”
St. Mary’s also got a strong effort on the boards from 6-foot-10 center Simon Knight and forward Chase Moore. Knight pulled down 10 rebounds, while Moore had 7. Moore also scored 11 points and played some point guard to take the pressure off of Sharper.
Berkeley countered St. Mary’s experience with athleticism and energy. The young ’Jackets are still learning head coach Mike Gragnani’s offensive and defensive systems, and several of them looked unsure of themselves in the second half.
“They made us play the way they wanted us to play, instead of how we want to play,” Gragnani said of the second half. “We stopped attacking the basket and getting the ball inside.”
On the inside is where Berkeley scored most of its points against St. Mary’s, as forward Damien Burns led the team with 14 points, hitting 6-of-7 from the field while pulling down 5 rebounds. Burns was the only ’Jacket to score in double figures, and Berkeley made just one 3-pointer in the game. Berkeley also failed to take advantage of a big advantage in trips to the free-throw line, making just 9-of-21 from the charity stripe.
“We have 80 percent guys who have never played in a big game before,” Gragnani said. “It was a great experience for us playing in front of a big crowd, playing against a hometown rival. Hopefully we’ll take some good things away from it.”
Gragnani plans to play a big rotation this season, with as many as 12 players seeing significant time on the floor, including four sophomores. With all five starters from last year gone, Gragnani knows the team is searching for a leader.
“We have a lot of guys who can be successful, but it’s going to be a committee,” he said. “Last year we could depend on (departed point guard) Ryan Davis, but now we have to depend on the entire team.”
Caraballo has the advantage of going to battle with familiar faces, but with Freeman watching in street clothes, St. Mary’s got some key contributions from players who didn’t have a big role last year. Guard Terrence Boyd scored 7 points and played excellent defense, while sophomore Fred Hives took advantage of some playing time with five points and a key steal.
NOTES: Berkeley prevailed in the junior varsity game, 67-57... Sharper said he is getting interest from Portland State and Yale among others. He said his backup plan is to be a walk-on at Cal.