The Berkeley High boys’ lacrosse team slew an old foe on Thursday, beating University High (San Francisco), 8-6, in a Northern California semifinal game. The win put the Yellowjackets into the NorCal final on Saturday for a shot at the first CIF-sponsored title game in the sport.
Nick Schooler, Berkeley’s leading scorer this season, broke a 6-6 tie with a goal with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Schooler took a pass from Jesse Cohen 15 yards from the University goal and bounced a shot past goalie Paul Fenstermaker for a 7-6 lead. It was Schooler’s first point of the day.
Sam Geller put the game away for the ’Jackets, although he did so against coach’s orders. Head coach Jon Rubin called a timeout with 1:40 left in the game and ordered the ball put in Geller’s hands to stall. Geller did a complete circle around the University goal before his defender slipped down. Taking advantage, Geller drove to the net and put a shot over Fenstermaker’s shoulder for a two-goal lead.
“I didn’t want him to shoot, I just wanted him to hold the ball,” Rubin said. “It was one of those moments where you go ‘no no no!’, then ‘yes yes yes!’”
Geller said he didn’t hesitate when he saw a hole in the defense.
“We were coming down up one goal, and it was just a little longer to daylight,” the sophomore midfielder said. “Then the defenseman fell, and I saw the light.”
The win was a landmark in several ways for the ’Jackets and their coach. It was Berkeley’s first win over UHS in seven years and put them in the NorCal final for the first time ever. The ’Jackets avenged a 7-6 loss to University earlier this season, a game several Berkeley players called their worst of the season. It was also the first time Rubin has beaten the Red Devils as a coach.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game forever,” Geller said. “It’s been building up in us for so long. (University) has been motivation for us, and it feels great to beat them.”
It looked as if Berkeley would blow the game open in the first quarter as the ’Jackets built a 3-0 lead in just four minutes. It took just three passes off of the opening faceoff for them to get their first score, with Dan Vilar finding Noah Flessell open in front of the goal.
Berkeley got its next two goals by going right at All-American midfielder Colin Mistele. First Geller slid past Mistele and another defender to bounce a shot past Fenstermaker, then Cameran Sampson juked Mistele out of his jock before scoring on a left-handed shot.
But the Devils showed why they earned the No. 2 seed, getting three goals before halftime to tie the score. Two of the goals came in the transition game, one of Berkeley’s few weaknesses. Mistele launched a shot completely past the Berkeley goal, but teammate Tom McKinley alertly backed up the shot and found Mistele crashing the net before the Berkeley defenders could react.
University’s Jon Leung scored the only goal of the second quarter when a loose ball to the right of the Berkeley goal squirted out of a crowd right to his stick, giving him a one-on-one with goalie Marc Bloch.
Berkeley again scored off the opening faceoff of the second half, as Vilar picked up the ball and found longstick middie Demetrius Sommers racing down the field. Sommers hit Cohen in stride for an open shot that found the net.
Julian Coffman gave the ’Jackets a 5-3 lead with a laser of a shot from 20 yards out a minute later, but a penalty and some bad communication gave the Devils a two-man advantage. With Joaquin Palomino in the box for a slash, a Berkeley assistant coach signaled Vilar to leave the game. Vilar mistook the gesture and raced to play defense, drawing an offsides penalty that led to a goal by McKinley.
But in a case of instant redemption, Vilar scored off of the ensuing faceoff when Sommers picked up the ball and again raced past the midfield stripe and well into University territory before offloading the ball for his second assist of the game, a rarity for a player who mainly plays defense.
“I was just getting fastbreaks and diming people up,” Sommers said. “They put ‘em in the goal for me.”
Mistele finally broke free for another goal late in the third quarter, coming off a stiff screen to take a pass from McKinley right in front of a helpless Bloch, and Berkeley’s lead was cut to 6-5. When Sommers was called for a slash, Leung scored his second goal of the game with just five seconds left in the penalty to tie the score with seven minutes left in regulation.
Berkeley had lost all three of its close games this season, but Thursday was a different story. Coffman hit the post with another whistler from the top, showing that the ’Jackets weren’t going on the defensive, then Schooler and Geller’s goals put them over the top.
“(University) got a lot of scrappy goals today, but I felt like we had momentum the whole time,” Rubin said. “We did what we needed to do to win: we got almost every groundball and we played solid defense.”
The win likely gives Berkeley a shot at revenge on the only team they haven’t beaten: top-ranked St. Ignatius (San Francisco). The Wildcats were heavy favorites in their semifinal matchup with Bishop O’Dowd on Thursday, although results were unavailable at press time. St. Ignatius dealt the ’Jackets their only home loss of the season, a 10-9 slugfest that went down to the final minute. But Berkeley’s players and coaches agree that the Wildcats will see a different Berkeley team on Saturday. The game will be played at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco at 3 p.m.
“I feel like we’re even with SI right now,” Schooler said. “They’ve got better attackers, we’ve got better middies, and our defenses are equal. But we’ve got a better goalie.”
Sommers put it a bit more succinctly.
“I’m so pissed off, I’m gonna come out on fire,” he said with a grin. “We’re just gonna take ‘em out.”