A furious third-quarter comeback wasn’t enough for the Berkeley Lady Yellowjackets as St. Ignatius (San Francisco) pulled off a 52-49 upset in a quarterfinal of the Northern California Section Division I playoffs.
Berkeley forward Sabrina Keys was called for an intentional foul with seven seconds left in the game, and St. Ignatius seniors Katie Meinhardt and Maureen McCaffery each hit two free throws to give the Wildcats a three-point lead. Berkeley guard Angelita Hutton missed a half-court shot at the buzzer as the ’Jackets missed out on playing in the NorCal championship for the first time in nearly a decade.
St. Ignatius survived Berkeley’s comeback from a 16-point deficit at halftime. Lauren Chambers hit two free throws, her only points of the game, to give the ’Jackets their first lead of the game at 45-44 with three-and-a-half minutes left in the game.
The teams traded baskets twice, with Kalyca Seabrook getting a putback for a 49-48 Berkeley lead with 15 seconds left. Berkeley had three fouls to give before St. Ignatius would get to the free throw line, but Meinhardt got free under the basket, forcing Keys to foul her hard. The referee immediately called an intentional foul, giving the Wildcats two free throws and possession of the ball. Meinhardt hit her free throws, then McCaffery was fouled and made her shots with 5.1 seconds left.
Berkeley came into the game as the second seed in Division I, while the Wildcats were unseeded despite winning the Central Coast Section title with a win over Archbishop Mitty. St. Ignatius didn’t even earn a first-round bye, having to beat Washington on Tuesday night just to get to Wednesday night’s game.
“We knew we should have been seeded higher,” Meinhardt said. “We wanted to come in here and beat the team to beat and prove how good we are.”
Meinhardt keyed the Wildcats’ strong first half, scoring 11 points with 4 steals in the second quarter alone. The Boston University-bound senior scored a game-high 24 points overall, and McCaffery, who will play at Harvard next season, helped out with 10.
Berkeley committed 18 turnovers in the first half, allowing St. Ignatius to take more than twice as many shots before halftime. The ’Jackets struggled to solve the Wildcats’ zone defense and were unable to get Keys free inside, settling for jumpers and reckless drives.
“We had an unbelievable number of unforced turnoversi n the first half that killed us,” Berkeley head coach Gene Nakamura said. “It wouldn’t have been that close of a game if we didn’t give them the ball so much.”
The inside trio of McCaffery, Megan Niedermeyer and Kelsey Wegmann held Keys to 11 points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field.
“We knew they’d come with a zone, but we were just standing around,” Nakamura said. “We started attacking in the second half, and that’s when we had success.”
The Lady ’Jackets came out of halftime fired up, cranking up the defensive pressure. Angelita Hutton, Natasha Bailey and Shaquita Brown all hit 3-pointers during Berkeley’s 20-7 third quarter, cutting the Wildcat lead to three points at 36-33. Keys made her only field goal and was fouled, hitting the free throw to tie the game at 40-40 early in the fourth quarter.
“We had a nice lead at halftime, but it disappeared before I could even think,” St. Ignatius head coach Jim Dekker said. “They started putting pressure on us, and they’ve got great athletes.”
Berkeley, which lost the state championship game the last two seasons, will be home for the NorCal championship game for the first time since 1993, when they lost in the semifinals to Lincoln (San Francisco).
St. Ignatius, with its wins over Mitty and Berkeley, has beaten the NorCal champs of the last five seasons.