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Berkeley collapse puts SLL title up for grabs

By Jared Green, Daily Planet Staff
Friday May 03, 2002

Dragons score five goals in fourth quarter to take over a share of first place 


With two minutes left in the third quarter against Bishop O’Dowd on Thursday, the Berkeley High boys’ lacrosse team had a 5-2 lead and a seeming stranglehold on the Shoreline Lacrosse League title. But from that point on the game was a nightmare for the ’Jackets. 

O’Dowd scored the final six goals of the match, including five in the fourth quarter, to grab an 8-5 comeback win on their home field. O’Dowd’s Nick Stratton, held to just two assists in the teams’ two games up to that point, had two goals and two assists in the final quarter to lead his team. 

The loss dropped Berkeley (11-3 overall) back into a tie for first place with the Dragons (13-2), with both team 4-1 in the SLL. Berkeley won the first matchup, 6-2, on March 12 in Berkeley, and the league hasn’t determined what to use as a tie-breaker, so the title is seemingly up for grabs. 

Berkeley head coach Jon Rubin felt the Dragons’ explosion of goals had been coming for a while. 

“We knew they had that kind of firepower, that they could score a bunch of goals quickly,” Rubin said. “Even when we were up by three goals I didn’t feel secure. They were playing with so much energy.” 

The ’Jackets, on the other hand, were worn out by the final period, as the O’Dowd transition game had run them ragged. It didn’t help that Joaquin Palomino, one of Berkeley’s top defensemen, was sidelined for the game, or that defenseman Demetrius Sommers was playing with a fever of 102 degrees. 

“We just couldn’t possess the ball on offense, and our defense got tired,” Sommers said. “They were just out-hustling us all game. They just kept on running us into the ground.” 

Berkeley was also hurt by two fourth-quarter penalties, both of which O’Dowd converted into goals. Dan Vilar was caught offside, leading to the game-tying goal from Stratton, and Sam Geller was called for a slash, with Stratton finding Pat Bird for a the go-ahead score. 

As the Dragons picked up their games, the ’Jackets fell apart. They failed to score on two O’Dowd penalties with the game still within reach, then Jesse Cohen threw a lazy pass that Stratton picked off in full stride. O’Dowd’s leading scorer went all the way down the field before bouncing a shot past Berkeley goalie Marc Block for a 7-5 lead with less than five minutes left. 

Stratton and Bird combined for three goals and three assists, a big improvement over a lone assist from two of the league’s top scorers in the teams’ first meeting. Stratton was dominating in the final quarter, dicing up the Berkeley defense. 

“Stratton and Bird really stepped up with big goals late in the game,” O’Dowd head coach Wayne Shaffer said. “Your big guys have to step up in big games. They didn’t do that in Berkeley, but they sure did today.” 

O’Dowd put the game away with a minute remaining. Geller took a long shot that goalie Mike Sheridan saved easily, launching another fast break that ended with a Mike Esser goal, his second of the match. 

“We knew we had to come out in the fourth quarter and win the game,” Stratton said. “We got a couple of lucky goals, but it came down to hustle.” 

Sheridan also had something to do with the comeback. After making just two saves in the first half, the O’Dowd goalie made eight in the second half, all after giving up a soft goal on a shot from just inside the halfline by Berkeley’s Cohen. Cohen led the ’Jackets with three goals, but that was the last score Berkeley would get. 

Rubin said the chewed-up O’Dowd field may have gotten into his players’ heads, as the ’Jackets are accustomed to the true bounces and fast pace of their home AstroTurf. Rubin’s players looked befuddled on numerous rolling balls, while the Dragons were able to pick the ball up on the run, giving the home side a big advantage. 

“I think we got psyched out by the field a little bit. They just out-groundballed us,” Rubin said. “But they played a phenomenal game. This was nothing more than a good team beating another good team.” 

Shaffer agreed that the teams are evenly matched, and either team can win on any given day. 

“On the days we make plays, we’re going to win. On days they make the plays, they’ll win,” he said. “Our two teams are just neck-and-neck.” 

No matter which team claims the league title, both will likely make the field for the Nothern California Postseason Tournament. St. Ignatius (San Francisco) is the only team to defeat both Berkeley and O’Dowd, although the Dragons still have a match against University (San Francisco) next week. The Red Devils beat Berkeley, 7-6, earlier this season.