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Lady Yellowjackets shock top-ranked Marin Catholic

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Monday January 21, 2002

Saturday’s game between the Berkeley Lady Yellowjackets and Marin Catholic was supposed to be a chance for the Wildcats to take over the title of Northern California’s best team. After all, they were the top-ranked team in the region and earlier this season defeated the then-No. 1 team in the country, Highlands Ranch of Colorado, last month.  

Berkeley, on the other hand, has struggled through a rough season, going into Saturday’s game with an uncharacteristic 8-7 record. But the ‘Jackets, winners of the last two NorCal titles, weren’t quite ready to pass the torch just yet, overcoming a six-point fourth-quarter deficit to win, 57-52. 

The game, part of the Acalanes Shootout in Lafayette, was a tense affair, with each team’s senior leader benched by foul trouble early. Brooke Smith, Marin Catholic’s 6-foot-3 center, picked up her second foul just three minutes into the game and didn’t play again until the second half. But Berkeley’s star, 6-foot-1 forward Sabrina Keys, also drew her second foul in the opening quarter and sat for the entire second period. Keys, a Purdue signee, ended up fouling out halfway through the fourth quarter, but not before scoring her team’s first seven points in the period to bring them within a point at 47-46. 

“The refs called the fouls, so I had to live with them,” Keys said of fouling out. “But we still pulled it through. When we play team ball, we’re unstoppable, no matter who’s out there.” 

With Keys out of the game, no one would have been surprised if the ‘Jackets had folded. After all, Keys was their main offensive threat, leading all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and did a solid job on the Duke-bound Smith, holding her to just 9 points and 5 rebounds. But Berkeley managed to tie the game, 51-51 on a 3-pointer from Natasha Bailey, then took a 53-52 lead on a spinning layup from Angelita Hutton with a minute left. 

“One of our traditional strong points has been our bench strength, and that was the case tonight,” Berkeley head coach Gene Nakamura said. “I’ve been putting pressure on people to step up. I have confidence in our bench people.” 

Both teams showed frazzled nerves in the final minute. Hutton missed the front end of a one-and-one, but then Smith handed control right back to the ‘Jackets when she blew a wide-open layup. Berkeley freshman Devanei Hampton missed her chance to extend the lead when she missed another free throw before Smith missed another open shot, then missed the putback. 

A key mistake by Marin Catholic (12-3) coach Rick DeMartini gave Berkeley the chance to put the game away for good. After Bailey pulled down the rebound from Smith’s third miss and was fouled, DeMartini called for a timeout. But his team didn’t have any remaining, resulting in an automatic technical foul. Bailey hit 3-of-4 free throws to give her team a four-point lead with just three seconds left in the game to ice the victory, and Shaquita Brown provided the final score with another free throw with one tick left on the clock. 

“We definitely had our chances,” DeMartini said. “This time we had the bulls-eye on our back and Berkeley took it away. The good news is this wasn’t for the NorCal title and we have a lot more basketball ahead of us. We’re still very disappointed.” 

Nicole Warren, a 6-foot-1 forward headed to Boston College in the fall, led the Wildcats with 16 points and 7 rebounds, but no other Marin Catholic players scored in double figures. 

Berkeley used a mix of old heads and young talent to secure the win. Keys, Bailey and Hutton are all seniors and have been through the wars, but head coach Gene Nakamura also got key contributions from 6-foot-3 Hampton and Shaquita Brown, who was playing her first game for the ’Jackets after tranferring from Vallejo High. Hampton scored 11 points and dominated the boards with 13 rebounds, although she did take quite a few questionable shots and was just 5-of-16 from the floor. 

“Devanei’s just a freshman. She does some great things, and there are some things she needs to improve on,” Nakamura said. “You have to remember that these are young kids, and be patient. That’s what being a coach is all about.” 

Brown scored just 2 points in her Berkeley debut, playing about half of the game, but fit right in with the team concept. She has been practicing with the team all season, but just became eligible to play at a CIF hearing on Thursday. 

“(Brown) was a steadying influence, and she helped solidify our offense and our defense,” Nakamura said. 

In picking up their first win over a ranked team this season, the ’Jackets showed they are still contenders for regional honors. Nakamura knew this was an important game for his team. 

“I was using this game as a gauge to see where we stood,” he said. “This was the one.”