By Jeremy Balan
The St. Ignatius girls basketball team erased a 10-point halftime deficit to beat visiting Berkeley 62-59 in non-league play on Friday night, but that likely won’t be the lasting impression for anyone that was in attendance.
What will resonate was the finish, which was as controversial as it was hectic.
Only up by two points with 5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, St. Ignatius guard Qunici Mann was fouled and went to the free throw line with an opportunity to put the game away.
The junior hit the first shot, but missed the second and standout Berkeley senior Rachel Howard hauled in her 12th rebound of the game. Howard got the ball to point guard Janamon Welch-Coleman, who rushed up the court and went up for a running 30-foot jump shot at the buzzer. During the attempt, Welch-Coleman was contacted by a St. Ignatius defender and the ball ended up nowhere near the basket. No foul was called and the referees rushed off the court.
Berkeley head coach Cheryl Draper was so incensed by the officials’ decision not to call a foul that she berated two of the three officials as she chased them to their locker room. Draper also took issue with the foul totals in the game, as well as a traveling call on Howard while she was under the St. Ignatius basket with 13 seconds left and said after the display that she would be filing a protest of the game.
“Any time officials make the difference in the game and take a game away from a good-played high school game, you need to question the officials. I question their abilities and I question their decisions, and you can quote that,” Draper said. “There was total contact on the last play and they ignored it . . . It was their intention to take this game away.”
The foul totals in the game were identical (14 for each team), but Berkeley (2-3) did have three more fouls that St. Ignatius in the second half.
“I had a problem with the officials in the first half and [Draper] had problems with the officials in the second half,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michael Mulkerrins.
Lost in the muddle of the game’s final moments was a back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured three lead changes and four ties.
Mann, a junior transfer from Piedmont, had eight of her 16 points in the fourth, including a three-pointer with 6:13 remaining to give the Wildcats (6-1) their first lead of the second half at 49-46.
But the Yellowjackets continued to battle back and regained the lead at 57-55 with 2:35 remaining on a steal and layup by junior guard Desire Finnie. The Wildcats then scored four straight points to take back the lead and Finnie tied the game again with another fast-break layup.
Needing a go-ahead score with the shot clock winding down, the Wildcats didn’t look to sophomore forward Brianna Beckman – who finished with a team-high 19 points – or leading scorer Sydney Raggio – who had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor. Instead, senior guard Crystal Sun found herself alone on the right-hand wing, drove to her left and into the paint, and banked in a running jump shot from 12 feet out to give St. Ignatius the lead for good.
“Because we’re so young, this team is going to have a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes we’re going to look like world-beaters and in other moments, we look like an 8th-grade team,” Mulkerrins said. “[At halftime] I said that the next 16 minutes would say a lot about this team – about its character. They responded in a big way.”
The reason for the double-digit halftime deficit was a dominant rebounding performance and a high-pressure Berkeley defense. The Yellowjackets outrebounded the Wildcats 25-12 in the first half and Finnie had four of her game-high eight steals in the second quarter. Howard, a Division I prospect that has six offers from west-coast colleges, also had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the second quarter, but got into foul trouble early in the second half and only had two points after the break. Berkeley outscored St. Ignatius 23-9 in the second quarter.
Without Howard for much of the second half, the offense began to run entirely through Finnie, who had a game-high 24 points, but on 10-of-27 shooting from the floor. In transition, fueled by her constant steals, Finnie was unstoppable, but in half-court sets, the Wildcats found success sagging off the standout junior, forcing her to take jump shots.
“Our goal was to make [Finnie] shoot and not get to the rim,” Mulkerrins said. “When she got to the rim, she finished, but when she was settling for jumpers, she was missing. It took us three quarters for us to figure out the game plan.”
Brianna Beckman – 19
Quinci Mann – 16
Sydney Raggio – 12
Tyler Brown – 7
Crystal Sun – 4
Desire Finnie – 24
Rachel Howard – 14
Jaimonie Welch-Coleman – 10
Sierra Franklin – 9
Taki Brandon – 2