Santa Rosa girls basketball falls to Berkeley 56-45

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

BERKELEY – The Santa Rosa girls knew they had a distinct height advantage in the paint entering Wednesday’s North Coast Section Division 2 semifinal game. The problem, as it turned out, was getting those big girls the ball.

Point guard Katie Daly, the reigning Redwood Empire Player of the Year, missed the game with a concussion, and another guard, defensive specialist Maddie Taylor, sat out with a shoulder injury. The Panthers were a diminished team without them.

Coach Steve Chisholm wishes he could have faced No. 2 seed Berkeley at full strength. As it was, the Yellowjackets scored a 56-45 victory over No. 3 Santa Rosa and will play Deer Valley for the D1 championship on Friday.

“Like I told them inside (the locker room), they’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Chisholm said afterward. “We’re proud of ’em. Kind of went into the game with one hand tied behind our back with two starters out.”

The Panthers’ season isn’t over, either. As semifinalists, they already have earned a spot in the CIF NorCal playoffs, which begin next week. Chisholm believes he will have Daly back for that game, but he isn’t sure about Taylor. Both got hurt in the playoff game against Foothill last Friday.

Wednesday, it became clear that Santa Rosa (27-4) needs all of its horses to beat the top teams.

Center Morgan Bertsch led the Panthers with 13 points and power forward Devin Murray added 11, but their opportunities were limited. (Kylie Oden scored 12.) Berkeley’s swarming defense forced Santa Rosa into 29 turnovers, many of them on inlet passes to Bertsch and Murray.

The Panthers also got a taste of their own medicine as they struggled to beat the Yellowjackets’ full-court press without Daly’s poised ball-handling.

“Katie is one of the best players I’ve ever played with personally,” Murray said. “She sees everything, everywhere. I know when I’m open, Katie sees me before I know I’m open. You just don’t appreciate it until she’s not there, how well she can handle the ball.”

After staking a 13-8 lead early in the second quarter, the visitors got rattled and starting giving away the ball at an alarming rate. Berkeley went on a sustained 14-2 run that lasted most of the quarter, and went into halftime with a 26-18 advantage. Doing most of the damage for the Yellowjackets were shifty point guard Jaiamoni Welch-Coleman and sweet-shooting forward Desire Finnie, the tallest player on her team at 5-foot-11.

The Panthers weren’t done, though. If they were sloppy with the ball and clearly not as quick as the home team, they evened the playing field with tight interior defense. The Yellowjackets hit just 33 percent of their shots (24 of 72), due partially to their own inaccuracy, and partially to Santa Rosa’s hands-up defense.

Santa Rosa started the second half with a 10-2 run to tie the game at 28-28, with Bertsch scoring two baskets. The teams traded buckets for a few minutes, but Berkeley ended the third quarter with an 8-0 run and scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to go up 47-36, which was too deep of a hole for Santa Rosa on this night.

Finnie, one of only two seniors on the Yellowjackets roster, scored 10 of their 14 points during the decisive spree, including a buzzer beater with a favorable bounce to end the third quarter, and a couple of 3-point shots in the fourth. She finished with 27 points.

Welch-Coleman scored 14 for Berkeley, and dictated the pace of the game on both ends. She was responsible for numerous steals, and was usually one step ahead of the Santa Rosa defense when handling the ball. Her crossover dribble and kick-out passes were way beyond most high school girls.

“Usually we have Katie out there, too, who’s an awesome defender,” Murray said. “We tried our best on that girl, but she is outstanding. She’s so quick. Everything she does is just fast. But if Katie was out there I think it would have made a big difference.”

It was a disappointing experience for Daly, a four-year starter who missed her first game as a Panther after playing in 120 straight. She watched the game from the bench, her slippers looking more comfortable than her expression.

“It was the hardest thing in the whole wide world,” Daly said afterward.

She declared herself symptom-free, saying she’ll be able to run today and practice in full Monday.

With Daly and Taylor out, freshmen Sara Howard and Emily Codding were thrust into starting roles. Howard scored nine points and showed some good dribbling skills. If there is a silver lining in the Panther’s setback, it’s the big-game experience Howard and Codding got heading into the NorCals.

“I think it was a great learning experience for the freshmen, Sara and Emily,” Chisholm said. “It’s only gonna make them better down the road. We didn’t expect them to get this many minutes tonight. But they both played very well.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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