Mark DeLuca doesn’t mind the long trip up Interstate 80 from the East Bay.
Not when the rewards are this grand.
Two hours from the East Bay, in the rain, with a lot to play for, added to the challenge for the third-year Berkeley High School coach, especially as an underdog.
The storied Yellowjackets, a basketball power since the 1950s, set an early blistering pace, then proved they could shoot the ball, defend and hold on late in upsetting second-seeded Jesuit 62-59 on Saturday night in a CIF Northern California Division I Regional second-round game.
This effort came nearly a year to the day since the Yellowjackets of the North Coast Section bounced host Sheldon in a NorCal game.
“We don’t mind the drive to Sacramento at all,” a relieved and grinning DeLuca said. “I like our chances up here. It’s a different brand of ball up here, a good brand. Teams share the ball. We’re used to teams that pressure and fire up threes, but we can play any style.
“Jesuit’s a great team, and this was a great win. We’re winning on the road in the NorCals, and that’s something.”
DeLuca hopes for at least one more trek this way. The NorCal finals are at Sleep Train Arena on Saturday.
Berkeley bolted to a 7-0 lead, racing up and down the court in a blur. Jesuit settled down to tie it 9-9, and the Yellowjackets (22-8) led throughout the fourth and held off the Marauders (25-6), who lost to Folsom in a Sac-Joaquin Section D-I semifinal.
Bryant Monroe’s putback pushed Berkeley ahead 71-57 with 21 seconds to go, and Malik Duffy’s offensive rebound and putback pulled Jesuit to within 61-59 with 9.5 seconds left. Monroe made it 62-59 with a free throw with 8.2 seconds left, but Jesuit was unable to get a clean shot off in the frantic final seconds.
Miles Malone led Berkeley with 20 points, Ben Baker added 15 ,and Sean Spikes had 10. Duffy, a skilled 6-foot-7 big man, had 19 in his final game for Jesuit. He and senior guard Ethan Pangelinan were the anchor leaders for Jesuit, a school not nearly as old as 136-year-old Berkeley High – opening in 1963 – but owners of some of the richest basketball tradition in Northern California.
The Marauders are so united as a school that it’s common for alumni to wind up as coaches and stick for a long time. Jesuit first-year coach Jon Rotz was a key guard for Jesuit in the early 1990s under coach Hank Meyer, when Big Red made a big move as a state-level powerhouse. Rotz replaced longtime coach and Jesuit alum Greg Harcos, who wanted a new challenge and found it as the school’s athletic director.
Rotz worked wonders with a young team this season, imploring effort, fundamentals and teamwork. Jesuit lost two close games to powerhouse Sheldon, still alive in the NorCal Open field, and liked its chances of a NorCal D-I title run.
There were a lot of tears in the Jesuit dressing room, a glaring example of players and coaches who care about the game, their school and one another.
“It does feel like a kick in the chest,” Rotz said of the finality of sudden defeat. “For my first year, to coach this team, it’s a special group. We talked to our seniors, those who played a lot and those who didn’t, and their role as leaders to our younger players. We always preach, ‘Don’t give up,’ and we didn’t. We kept battling.”
Of Berkeley, Rotz said, “They’re very well coached, run a lot of sets, switched on defense. Very good team.”
Jesuit will return a lot of players for another run next season, including guards Matt Ehrlich, Jake Virga and Isaiah Rutherford and forward Chris Simpson.