SACRAMENTO -- The Berkeley High girls basketball team used a familiar formula to earn yet another trip to the Division I state championships.
But Saturday's 56-45 victory over Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills at Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena capped a Northern California regional playoff run unlike any other for one of the area's perennial powers.
After an early exit in the North Coast Section playoffs, Berkeley (22-11) entered the regional playoffs as the 12th seed. Unlike most years, they weren't the heavy favorites in the Division I field.
But with their typical quick and aggressive defense, combined with inspired play from senior Rachel Howard, the Yellowjackets' completed their run to a record 12th NorCal title.
Howard had 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds while junior forward Desire Finnie added 14 points and eight rebounds.
"I'm ecstatic," said Berkeley coach Cheryl Draper. "Our expectations are really high and we had a lot of non-believers that told us this team was only going to win five games this year. I took it personally and developed these girls and worked them hard."
The Yellowjackets will meet a familiar foe in their third consecutive state title game. Long Beach Poly, fresh off a 63-40 victory over Canyon Springs-Moreno Valley in the Southern regional final, awaits Berkeley next Friday at 6 p.m.
Berkeley got off to a slow start against Oak Ridge (28-5) but was in control by halftime.
After Oak Ridge
"We couldn't answer their rebounding," said Oak Ridge senior Haley Anderson. "They set the tone physically and we didn't respond until the second half."
Howard, a USF-bound wing and the Yellowjackets' only four-year varsity player, played in the NBA arena for a sixth time in her career. She looked comfortable shooting early on, scoring 10 straight points in Berkeley's big run while nailing a couple NBA-range 3-pointers.
Salesian 53, Piedmont 43: The Pride took a 15-point lead at halftime and never looked back to win the Division IV regional championship at American Canyon High.
The top-seeded Pride (29-7), which has won two straight NorCal titles, will face Southern Regional champ Serra-Gardena in the state title game at 10 a.m. next Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Asked if his team is peaking, and Salesian coach Stephen Pezzola smiled and said he expects the "peak" next Saturday.
"They have a very good team," Pezzola said of Serra. "They're very big. I know they have a 6-foot-3 post. They've got three wings that are pretty dynamite, so we'll have to do a better job than we did today on closing out on 3-point shooters, but we'll figure that out."
The Pride dominated the No. 3 seeded Highlanders (22-10) for most of the game, leading 27-12 at halftime and limiting Piedmont to 8 for 37 shooting from the floor overall. The Highlanders had trouble breaking the press, turning the ball over 31 times.
Sophomore Kian McNair led the Pride with 13 points, and 6-foot-4 junior center Zoe Correal had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Piedmont, led by senior guard Maddie Mills' 19 points and junior Lauren Seyranian's 17 points and 11 rebounds, battled gallantly in the fourth quarter, outscoring Salesian 23-15 during mop-up time.
"We haven't quit all year," Piedmont coach Bryan Gardere said. "As coaches we want them to fight all the way to the end, and I thought they did that. It's been a fun year. It's been a good year. I'm proud of the girls."
Salesian star Mariya Moore, had nine points, including going 7 for 7 from the free throw line.
Salesian lost 72-41 to La Jolla Country Day in the state final last year after earning its first NCS and regional Division IV titles. Moore was disappointed in how the 2012 season ended.
"Last year I felt like we had a little more in us that we didn't use on the court," Moore said. "I hope we can let it all out on the court next weekend."
-- Matt Schwab