The Berkeley High boys’ basketball team mounted a dramatic comeback Wednesday night only to come up short in the final seconds, falling 58-55 to the Acalanes Dons in their opening-round game of the Leo LaRocca Sand Dunes Classic at Saint Ignatius Prep in San Francisco.
After trailing by nine points with less than three minutes to play, the Yellowjackets went on a 12-2 run, finally taking the lead 55-54 on a Dontae Hall floater with 20 seconds remaining in the game. But that was the end of Berkeley's scoring, and Acalanes center Mark Ricksen soon regained the lead for the Dons with a driving layup, an acrobatic play on which he was also fouled.
Ricksen failed to convert the three-point play, but Acalanes came away with the rebound. Berkeley had fouls to give and, after a pair of non-shooting, fouls wound the clock down to four seconds, Acalanes junior forward Zach Clark was sent to the line for a crucial one-and-one. Clark buried both free throws, and the Yellowjackets hopes for victory along with them.
“Tonight we just waited too long to start playing basketball,” Gragnani said. “Right now we're finding new ways to show our inexperience each time out.”
Berkeley began showing signs of life halfway through the fourth quarter, scraping together a six-point run. After a questionable foul that raised the eyebrows of several Acalanes players, Acalanes head coach Robert Collins instructed his players to keep their heads in the game.
“Don't make faces, just play! Who cares what he calls?” shouted Collins, whose booming voice reverberated in the Saint Ignatius’ tiny Cowell Pavilion throughout the contest.
After the ‘Jackets pulled to within three points, 46-43, Acalanes junior forward J.D. Dudum seemed to respond to Collins’ coaching, instantly erasing Berkeley's six-point run with back-to-back three pointers.
Dudum torched the Yellowjackets for 16 points in the second half, leading all players with 22 points total.
“We've seen him before,” Gragnani said of the 6-foot-3 Dudum. He’s a good player. Tonight we just lost vision of him from time to time, and he picked up several easy buckets.”
Berkeley’s Robert Hunter-Ford answered Dudum with his own three-pointer, sparking the Yellowjackets' late run. Hunter-Ford led Berkeley with 14 points on the night, 10 of which came in the second half.
The Yellowjackets now face the loser of the late game between Vallejo High and Oakland's Fremont High in a consolation bracket game Friday at Cowell Pavilion, while the Dons move on to the more spacious McCullough Gym to face the winner of the same game.
“The way you learn is to be in that situation,” Berkeley head coach Mike Gragnani said. “We learned the hard way tonight.”