ANTIOCH, Calif. -
There's no crying in basketball.
Unless you're impassioned Carondelet (Concord, Calif.)
do-everything basketball standout Hannah Huffman
and you don't plan on staying sad very long.
Huffman literally had to wipe tears from her eyes after a foul and ensuing technical almost cost the Cougars a West Coast Jamboree Platinum semifinal victory over Bay Area rival
Wednesday night at Deer Valley High School.
The 5-foot-9 junior fouled Chairese Culberson
trying to shoot with 1:48 remaining, briefly protested the call, was whistled for her first-ever technical foul, then watched in horror as the Berkeley standout swished four straight free throws to tie the game at 62-62.
"Yes, I admit it," Huffman said. "And had we lost, there would have been tears for years."
Insead, Huffman kept her eyes dry and head up, while converting a fastbreak hoop with 40 seconds left that proved decisive in a 64-62 win over the Yellowjackets (7-1) in not only a battle to determine a finalist for today's championship, but a match-up of the Bay Area's top two ranked squads.
Huffman scored a game-high 18 points - 13 in the second half - and added seven rebounds as the Cougars (8-1), ranked fifth in the MaxPreps Freeman computer national rankings, will now play No. 2 Long Beach Poly in Thursday's 7:30 p.m. championship game.
The West Coast Jamboree is the largest prep tournament in the country, featuring more than 150 girls basketball teams. Finals are today in the 16-division tournament.
Poly (9-2) fought through a rough and tumble affair with Texas power Georgetown to win 65-53. UCLA-bound Sheila Boykin led the charge with 20 points in a game dominated at the foul line, where Poly made 14 attempts in the fourth quarter.
Huffman, a natural point guard who has moved to off-guard and small forward the last two seasons and now plays largely at power forward, said she was thankful for her teammates - particularly senior Stanford-bound standout Erica Payne
- who offered nothing but words of encouragement.
"My teammates had my back so I'm just happy I could deliver when I need to," she said.
The Cougars needed a defensive gem by Payne down the stretch to preserve the victory.
The 6-2 Stanford-bound power forward blocked a last-second layup attempt by Cal-bound guard
, who drove hard to the bucket after a nicely-designed play following three timeouts.
Berkeley took the ball out of bounds with 8.8 seconds left and got the ball to Chairese Culberson at the foul line. Culberson hit a cutting Boyd, who seemed to have a clear path to the bucket, but the long arms and superb timing of Payne rejected the Yellowjackets' last chance.
"Erica is our team leader," Huffman said. "She didn't let me get flustered down the stretch and she didn't back down on that last play."
Payne finished with just seven points, but she grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots.
"She made a nice play but she also fouled me," said Boyd, who finished with 13 points, seven assists and four steals. "Give her credit, but she definitely got me."
Everyone was giving credit to Carondelet freshman sensation Natalie Romeo
, who plays with an athleticism and fearlessness like Huffman did when she entered the Cougars' program.
Romeo was everywhere against Berkeley, scoring 10 of her 16 points in the first half. She added five steals and four assists.
"I'd heard about her, but she was better than I expected," Boyd said of Romeo. "She got in there."
Said Carondelet coach Margaret: "She's a machine. She's non-stop 24-7."
As good as Romeo and the Cougars were, especially in the second half, Berkeley never stopped attacking, fighting back from a 60-49 deficit following a fastbreak layup by Melissa Russi
with 5:58 remaining.
A 3-point basket by sharpshooter Elisha Davis
started a 9-0 run that took just more than a minute to close to 60-58 with 2:28 left.
After Huffman gave her team some breathing room with a jumper 30 seconds later, Culberson (12 points, eight rebounds) got fouled, made the four straight free throws to tie the game.
But down the stretch, Carondelet executed and Berkeley, which got 14 points from Davis and 13 from Rachel Howard, didn't. The Yellowjackets didn't score the final 1:48.
"We just didn't execute," Boyd said. "We'll learn from this and hopefully get them next time."
Since Carondelet moved up to Division I this season, the two squads figure to battle at least two more times this season. Only one will get to representative Northern California in the CIF State Championships.
Carondelet was the Division II North Region champion last year, before falling to Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in the state finals. Berkeley lost in the Division I NorCal finals to Oak Ridge, which went on to beat Long Beach Poly in the state finals.
"Winning the first game (Wednesday) should help with our confidence," Gartner said. "But we still have a lot of work to do."
Carondelet point guard Portia Velasco did much of the defensive work on Boyd (5-of-14 shooting) and, as a bonus, scored nine points. Teammate Melssia Russi had 14 points including five 3-pointers while Davis led Berkeley with 14, including four 3-pointers.