The Berkeley High girls basketball team will play in the Division I Northern California regional championship game for a fourth consecutive year after topping host Gunn-Palo Alto 54-46 in Tuesday's semifinals.
The Yellowjackets got off to a fast start as they won their third consecutive road game in the NorCal playoffs.
The No. 8 Titans (21-7), fresh off an upset of the top seed, were unable to score for nearly the entire first quarter. Gunn missed nine shots plus a pair of free throws before sophomore center Meghan Mahoney converted twice from the line with 11.9 seconds left. By then, Berkeley had opened a 9-0 lead.
"I think they rattled us a little bit," Gunn coach Sarah Stapp said of Berkeley's defense, which extended the length of the court. "And we've been to this game before a couple of other times, but we've never hosted. I think there was maybe a little bit of pressure in front of your crowd, trying to get to the next game where we've never been. So I just think they were thinking about that too much rather than playing the game at the very beginning."
Berkeley (21-11) hopes to reach the Div. I state final for a third year in a row after losing in the North Coast Section Division I semifinals.
"We just needed some repetitions," Berkeley coach Cheryl Draper said. "We are a rebuilding team with no experience. ... This is a good JV team for the Berkeley standards. Now that they've been thrown to the woods for 20-some games, they're starting to pick it up and learn."
It helped that Rachel Howard kept her elbow up. Half of the Yellowjackets' scoring came courtesy of the senior co-captain, who the night before at practice took the advice of one of her assistant coaches, kept her elbow up and rediscovered her stroke.
"It seems like every year our skill decreases, but we're Berkeley High," said Howard, who sank her team's four 3-pointers and finished with 27 points. "There is something about Berkeley High. When there's basketball, it's special. We're always going to have some sort of heart and soul because of our history."
Gunn trailed 26-16 at halftime, though Klausner was kept off the box score. The Princeton-bound ace of the softball team broke through with a backdoor cut underneath the basket 18 seconds into the third quarter and scored a team-high 15 points, all in the second half.
Down by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, The Titans trimmed the deficit to 41-35 with 5:23 left in the fourth quarter after free throws from Zwerling. But Berkeley never allowed it to get any closer.
"When they needed a big bucket, they got a big bucket," Stapp said.