SACRAMENTO -- The Berkeley High girls basketball team used a familiar formula to earn yet another trip to the Division I state championships.

The Yellowjackets' 56-45 victory over Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills at Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena on March 16 capped a Northern California regional playoff run unlike any other for one of the area's perennial powers.

In its third consecutive state title game, Berkeley will meet a familiar foe in Long Beach Poly, which beat Canyon Springs-Moreno Valley 63-40 in the Southern regional final, on March 22 at 6 p.m. back at Sleep Train Arena.

After an early exit in the North Coast Section playoffs, Berkeley (22-11) entered the regional playoffs as the 12th seed. Unlike most years, the Yellowjackets 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."

Berkeley got off to a slow start against Oak Ridge (28-5) but was in control by halftime.

After Oak Ridge scored the first eight points of the game, Berkeley went on a 31-3 first-half run and led by as many as 25 points early in the third quarter. The Yellowjackets forced 12 first-half turnovers and out-rebounded the Trojans 25-16 before the break.

"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.

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