When it comes to Northern California dominance, the Berkeley High girls’ basketball team is usually right up there with De La Salle football. But although the Spartans won yet another NorCal title this season, times may be changing for the Lady ’Jackets.
Berkeley was outrun, outrebounded and outhustled by the Pleasant Valley Vikings on Friday night, falling 72-61 for their first home loss in at least two years. The loss is the third this season for the ’Jackets, and things don’t get any easier; they head to Phoenix next week for the Nike Tournament of Champions, where they will face some of the top teams in the country.
Friday night’s loss may have been a wake-up call for Berkeley, as the slower and smaller Vikings used backdoor layups and outstanding foul shooting to beat the vaunted ’Jacket press, committing few turnovers and getting good shots.
“Today was a good lesson for us,” Berkeley co-head coach Gene Nakamura said. “If we have 40-point blowouts every game we’d never learn anything. They had better fundamentals, and they beat us at our own game.”
Pleasant Valley point guard Lauren Himmelspach certainly played the role of teacher, shredding the Berkeley defense for 31 points and 6 assists, handling the pressure with ease, and the Viking starting five scored every point for their team. Forward Anna Griffin scored 15, while Erin Gonzales and Jamie Ferguson contributed 13 and 10, respectively. They were 27-of-33 from the free throw line, including a 17-of-20 effort from Himmelspach.
Pleasant Valley head coach John Shepherd didn’t use his bench much during the game, as Jessica Margia was the only Viking substitutute until the final 30 seconds of the game. Himmelspach played the entire game until the final four seconds, leaving to a standing ovation from the visiting Viking fans and begrudging applause from the Berkeley faithful.
“My kids just played within themselves, and they didn’t press,” Shepherd said. “They’ve been playing together for six years, and the things I teach are pretty simple.”
With an up-tempo game and a team famous for their depth, the j’Jackets should have had the Vikings gasping for breath late in the game, but it just didn’t happen. Berkeley got decent production from its starters, with Sabrina Keys and Natasha Bailey leading the way with 14 points each, but the bench, usually a strength, managed just 7 points.
After an initial bout of nerves that resulted in three straight turnovers to start the game, the Vikings calmed down and didn’t commit another for the rest of the opening quarter. Himmelspach found Griffin on backdoor cuts for two easy layups and drove the lane for two of her own as the Vikings built a 13-10 lead after one quarter.
Ferguson scored an old-fashioned 3-point play on another backdoor cut, but a Rebekah Payne 3-pointer and Keys turnaround jumper kept it close. The Vikings then went inside as Gonzales scored three times in the post to pump up the Pleasant Valley lead to 29-19, and two Himmelspach free throws made it a 12-point advantage, which they would carry into halftime at 40-28.
The second half consisted mostly of Berkeley making small dents in their deficit, but the Vikings always answered back with a run of their own. The ’Jackets got closest late in the third quarter when Bailey hit back-to-back treys to cut the lead to 45-39, but Himmelspach hit four straight free throws to put her team back up by 10, and Berkeley wouldn’t get closer than that for the rest of the game.
“I’m not surprised at all that we lost. That’s why we scheduled them. We knew they were a tough team,” Nakamura said. “What surprised me was the quality of the refereeing. It was horrendous.”
The officials called two technicals on Berkeley, one on freshman center Devanei Hampton for wrestling for a jump ball too hard, and the other on Berkeley co-head coach Herb Miller for a comment that was directed at Nakamura. Nakamura was upset with what he considered some poor calls when Miller told him not to yell at the officials, and one of the referee’s gave Miller at T.
“That was some bush league stuff,” Nakamura said. “Herb was talking to me, so how does he get a technical?”
Regardless, a Berkeley team with three losses with more likely on the way in Phoenix is not what Nakamura imagined to start the season. But he’s confident that his young team will come around in time for the playoffs in February.
“Come see us at the end of the season, and I think you’ll see a different team,” he said with a wink.