Defeat by any measure never goes down easy.
Sometimes, it’s about as inviting as a kick to the throat with a nasty cough-syrup chaser.
Back-to-back setbacks for high school players whose lives revolve around championship pursuits are about as welcome as a kick to the neck and to the head.
A week after losing a last-second heartbreaker to Folsom in the Sac-Joaquin Section finals at Sleep Train Arena, the Sheldon Huskies fell for the final time in this bounce-back season, and they will have an offseason to ponder what might have been and what still can be.
Jumping ahead early and building double-digit leads in the fourth quarter, storied Berkeley on Saturday night delivered a 79-74 knockout by attacking the basket and doing more of the fundamentals in a CIF Northern California Division I Regional game at Sheldon.
The Yellowjackets (22-10) of the North Coast Section continually beat the Huskies (21-8) to loose balls, boxed out to corral key rebounds down the stretch and made free throws to ice it in a seedings upset. Sheldon was No. 2 and Berkeley No. 7.
Bryan Morris and Joel Allen scored 19 points each for Berkeley, a NorCal presence since the 1960s. Isaiah Brooks had 28 points, Matt Manning 20 and Elishja Duplechan 11 for the Huskies, a section powerhouse that expects to make another run next season.
Sheldon starts no seniors. Brooks, Duplechan and Devin Greene make for a terrific point guard trio on the floor, and Manning at 6-foot-5 is a three-point shooter who also can handle the ball and rebound. Other key cogs that return next season include guards Drew Cobb and Anthony Cook and centers Justin Allen and Blake Mason.
But none of that is much consolation now. Sheldon expected much better than a quick NorCal exit. The Huskies’ trademark when they won a record four consecutive section D-I titles was taking care of the ball and defense. Those elements were vital as Sheldon recovered from an eight-win campaign last season to win the Delta League at 13-1.
Against Berkeley, the Huskies were outrebounded, didn’t play strong defense and often fired passes out of bounds.
“We’re way better than we showed,” said Greene, who will be a fourth-year varsity starter next season. “We’ll learn from this, gain experience.”
Said Brooks: “We learned that we have to play harder. We didn’t come out and play as hard as we had to. Have to go 100 percent, all the time.”
The program constant has been coach Joey Rollings. He was delighted with Sheldon’s postseason return this season but a bit dismayed by the final result.
“We fought back, got back into it and had a shot to win, but we made too many mistakes,” Rollings said. “We had a good year, but we have a lot of improvement to do. We have to decide what we want to do as a team. Get better? We have to lift weights, get stronger. We’re a work in progress.”
Berkeley will play San Ramon Valley of Danville, a 76-62 winner over Sheldon rival Pleasant Grove, on Tuesday in a semifinal. Woodcreek will play longtime power De La Salle of Concord on Tuesday in the other semifinal. Woodcreek, which lost to Sheldon in the section semifinals, beat Freedom of Oakley 70-59.