The Berkeley High boys’ basketball team capped a 14-game winning streak to end its regular season Friday by defeating the El Cerrito High Gauchos 77-62 in Berkeley.
The win also meant the Yellowjackets captured the Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League title by posting a perfect 12-0 league record while finishing 21-5 overall. El Cerrito, meanwhile, finished the year 10-16 overall and 6-6 in the ACCAL.
Unlike in several of Berkeley’s lopsided wins this season, El Cerrito kept pace with the ’Jackets in the first half before Berkeley caught fire from the outside and outscored the Gauchos 46-35 after the break.
“We didn’t come out with the intensity that I would have liked defensively,” said Berkeley’s first-year coach Mike Gragnani. “That enabled them to get some penetration early.”
The ’Jackets trailed by four early before Berkeley guard Byron St. Jules scored his first of a game-high 22 points on a drive to the hoop that resulted in a three-point play with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
St. Jules scored a quick five points and forced two turnovers in the waning seconds of the first period to give Berkeley a 16-10 edge after one.
A balanced effort in the second quarter saw five ’Jackets score, led by St. Jules’ four. For El Cerrito, Josh McCorick sparked the team off the bench tossing in six second-period points. Kenneth Jones added another five to bring the Gauchos to within four, 31-27 at the half.
“We can tell when we have bad warm-ups that we’re going to have a bad game,” St. Jules said. “We picked it up in the second half though and played the way we know we can play.”
Berkeley found its rhythm to start the third quarter and made adjustments to El Cerrito’s defensive set that had caused the ’Jackets problems in the first half.
The Gauchos played a man-to-man defense on Berkeley guard Ryan Davis and forward Louis Riordan while playing zone against the rest of the team.
“They threw a triangle and two at us early,” Gragnani said. “We were a little confused on the court. We hadn’t seen that this year.”
After El Cerrito scored six of the last eight points to end the first half, Berkeley countered by scoring nine of the first 12 points in the third quarter to build a 10-point cushion with 5:37 left in the period.
“Once we cut the lead to six or eight points, Berkeley would always make a run,” said El Cerrito coach Brent Daniels.
“We could never get over the hump.”
The hump turned into a mountain after Berkeley knocked down three 3-pointers in the third quarter, including a buzzer beater by Riordan.
“They did a good job of finding the open man for the three,” Daniels said. “They just shot really well in the second half.”
In addition to St. Jules’ 22, Davis scored 18 points while Riordan added 15 and forward Ramone Reed contributed nine.
“After we started getting some inside shots, that’s when we started looking for our outside shooters,” Gragnani said. “If we can penetrate and knock down outside shots, we’ll give teams trouble.”
Down the stretch, the ’Jackets looked to St. Jules and Davis to lead the way.
In the fourth quarter the tandem combined for 15 of the team’s 23 points, that included hitting several key free throws. Berkeley finished the game 13-of-17 from the line while the Gauchos connected on 10-of-13.
Although Berkeley finished the year undefeated in the ACCAL, more important, Riordan said, is heading into postseason play with a win.
“We didn’t want to go into the playoffs coming off of a disappointing loss,” he said.
“I think we’re capable of playing better than what we’ve shown so far. There are stretches when we play really good basketball and if we can just make those stretches longer, I think we’ll be fine.”
Berkeley learns its playoff fate at 10 a.m. Sunday when the seeds are announced at Dublin High. “We feel that we deserve a top-three seed,” Gragnani said.