The Berkeley High girls’ basketball team shook off a tough first half with a 9-0 run to start the second half of Saturday’s North Coast Section Division I championship game against Pittsburg, finishing with a 60-53 win at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
The title is Berkeley’s seventh in a row and 14th overall, both section records. Bishop O’Dowd’s boys’ team won six in a row from 1978-83.
Saturday’s game was a stop-and-go affair, with constant whistles from the officials keeping either team from finding a rhythm. But the constant fouls favored Berkeley, as Pittsburg freshman Necolia Simmons, who was giving the ’Jackets a hard time in the post, played just 11 minutes due to foul trouble.
“Without all the foul trouble, you can’t predict what would have happened,” Pittsburg coach Maureen Mattson said. “I’d have to say we outplayed them.”
Guard Shaquita Brown led the ’Jackets with 16 points, with backcourt mate Angelita Hutton scoring 12. Senior forward Sabrina Keys had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Pittsburg got 15 points from forward Courtney Warren, but the Pirates’ leading scorer was just 5-for-18 from the field.
SImmons established herself early, bulling her way down low for two early baskets for a 4-2 Pirate lead. But the ’Jackets answered with a 13-2 run, and a 28-28 tie at halftime the best Pittsburg could manage for the rest of the way.
Keys had a rough-and-tumble game. Coming in with a sprained ankle, she was poked in the eye in the first quarter, then rolled her other ankle early in the second, forcing her to sit for five minutes. Without her, Berkeley was vulnerable down low, giving up two quick putbacks that cut their lead to 22-18.
But even with Keys out, Simmons still picked up her third foul when she hit Myette Anderson’s arm on a shot. Simmons showed her youth, jumping up and down in reaction to the call and earning a technical foul, which doubled as her fourth personal. The freshman left the game and would return only for a 30-second stint in the fourth quarter before fouling out.
“Simmons being out made a big difference,” Berkeley head coach Gene Nakamura said. “She can play, but she’s a freshman, and she made freshman mistakes.”
Instead of pulling away with Simmons on the bench, the ’Jackets coughed up their lead instead. Anderson missed her foul shots, and Hutton missed both free throws for the technical. Pittsburg’s Courtney Warren scored off an inbounds play in the final seconds, and the score was tied 28-28 going into halftime.
Keys came out of the locker room with renewed energy, scoring the first two baskets of the second half.
“Sabrina’s a warrior,” Nakamura said. “She has two sprained ankles, but she’s the type of girl who just laces ‘em up a little tighter and gets back out there.”
Hutton then hit a 3-point play and stole the ball, feeding Brown for a layup and a nine-point lead. The lead got as big as 15 points in the quarter.
“We were beating ourselves with turnovers and fouls,” Keys said. “But once we started playing our game and getting good shots, they couldn’t beat us.”
But the ’Jackets didn’t exactly slam the door. The Pirates got as close as four points down the stretch, thanks to some quick triggers by the Berkeley players.
“I wasn’t very happy,” Nakamura said of the Pirate comeback. “Time is (Pittsburg’s) enemy at that point, and we were giving the ball right back to them.”
The ’Jackets were awarded the second seed for the Northern California Regional playoffs this week. They will play the winner of a St. Ignatius-Washington outbracket game at home on Wednesday. Pleasant Valley, which beat Berkeley earlier this season, is the top seed, while Pittsburg was given the fifth seed and will take on OAL champ Oakland Tech.