The Berkeley High boys’ lacrosse team fell just short of their state championship dream on Saturday, falling 7-3 to St. Ignatius at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco in the Northern California championship game.
The top-seeded Wildcats finished their fourth consecutive state title campaign undefeated at 17-0, beating the Yellowjackets for the second time this season.
For Berkeley, the game was more than a chance at a glorious finish to a great season. A win over St. Ignatius would have put Berkeley into the upper echelon of progams in Northern California, as well as evening out their only remaining unavenged loss. But it wasn’t to be for the ’Jackets, as failures to capitalize on first-quarter mistakes by the Wildcats came back to haunt them as the game wore on.
“(St. Ignatius) finished well, and we kept hitting their goalie with our shots from in close and in man-up,” Berkeley captain Nick Schooler said. “It was bad execution and some bad luck.”
Indeed, an uncharacteristic four first-quarter penalties put the defending state champs back on their heels, as Berkeley shook off a St. Ignatius goal after just 17 seconds to take a 2-1 lead at the end of the first quarter. With a Wildcat penalty just ending Schooler found Cameran Sampson open 15 yards out, and Sampson whipped home a shot past goalie Justin Boland.
A minute later, Berkeley defender Chris May picked up a loose ball and raced over the halfline and towards Boland. When no Wildcats were there to stop him, May got close and bounced a shot past the goalie for the lead.
Unfortunately for the ’Jackets, that was as close as they would get to the championship trophy. St. Ignatius stopped taking foolish penalties but kept on hitting, with defenseman Damon Conklin providing the link from the defense to the offense, as a long pass off of a Berkeley turnover put Matthew Fredericks out on a fastbreak to tie the game.
“They beat us just they way we thought they would beat us, in the transition game,” Berkeley head coach Jon Rubin said.
Some bad communication between Rubin and his players helped set up the go-ahead goal for St. Ignatius. Already down a man on an offsides penalty, Rubin called for midfielder Ed Hill to go back on defense, causing another offsides penalty to give the Wildcats a two-man advantage. Patrick Fitzgibbon took advantage, whipping a shot past Berkeley goalie Marc Bloch, and SI took a 3-2 lead into halftime.
Rubin felt his team had played better than the Wildcats in the first half despite the deficit, but after the break the game was all about the defending champions. Three third-quarter goals gave them a 6-2 lead, an insurmountable lead with the SI defenders draped all over leading Berkeley scorers Schooler and Sam Geller. The Berkeley attack was almost always limited to aborted runs and distant shots, and when the ’Jackets did manage to get close to the goal Boland was there to stop them.
“It’s an old saying in sports: offense wins games but defense wins championships,” St. Ignatius head coach Dave Giarusso said. “We have a defensive concept and we stick to it. We don’t play players, we play the system.”
St. Ignatius All-American attacker Brian Schimaneck put the exclamation point on the victory, scoring his team’s final two goals on solo runs from the flanks to the front of the Berkeley net for easy finishes. Tamir Elterman got a consolation goal for Berkeley late in the fourth quarter, but by then it was clear that the ’Jackets would come up short of their state championship hopes.
“I thought we’d get farther than this at the beginning of the year,” Schooler said. “It still feels good, but it could’ve been better.”
For Rubin, who was named Coach of the Year for Northern California, Saturday’s loss was bittersweet as well. He knows it was the final shot at a state championship for his outstanding group of seniors, but Rubin thinks next year’s team has a chance to be just as good, if not better.
“Next year we should be just as strong. I predict we’ll be right back here,” he said. “The difference today was that St. Ignatius knew what it takes to win a championship and we didn’t. Hopefully the returning players will use this to build on next year.”