Berkeley guard Bryan Morris, left, and Crespi Carmelite forward Mitchell Mykhaylov battle for the ball during the second half of the CIF boys' Division I high school basketball championship game Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Crespi Carmelite won 68-53. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Berkeley guard Bryan Morris, left, and Crespi forward Mitchell Mykhaylov battle for the ball during the second half of the Division I high school basketball championship game Thursday night in Sacramento. Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Battling one of the nation’s top-ranked teams for the state title, the Berkeley High boys basketball team recovered from a 34-23 halftime deficit to grab a narrow 37-36 lead in the third quarter. But a dream ending for the underdogs wasn’t to be as Crespi-Encino went on a 9-1 tear and led the rest of the way.

The Yellowjackets had upset the odds three times in their drive to a long-awaited NorCal Division 1 championship, beating Jesuit 62-59, Monte Vista 64-52 and Menlo-Atherton 61-51. But SoCal champions Crespi proved too tough at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Berkeley finished its season with a 24-9 record. 

Berkeley guard Ben Baker, left, drives to the basket against Crespi forward Mitchell Mykhaylov during the second half of the state title game. Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Three Yellowjackets scored in double figures: Niles Malone (18), Sean Spikes (14) and Ben Baker (12). Spikes led the team with eight rebounds. The Crespi Celts finished with a massive 45-29 rebounding advantage. De’Anthony Melton had 17 rebounds and Mitchell Mykhaylov 13. Melton had a game-high 24 points as well as two blocks and four assists. Crespi won the state Division 4 title last year.

The Jackets’ earlier victories were built on speed, athleticism, tenacious defense and a balanced attack. But Crespi’s Melton, heading to USC next year, tipped the balance.

“When plays broke down, they got to the rim and scored a lot easier than us,” Yellowjacket coach Mark DeLuca said. “And when you have a Division I athlete like (Melton) who could finish, there’s not much you could do… That’s OK, we’ll learn from this and be better when we come back here in the coming years.”

“The kid is pretty unbelievable,” Crespi coach Russell White said about Melton. “He’s a Swiss army knife. A hybrid. A do-everything kid. He’s had an amazing career.”

Berkeley High last took the boys state title in 1924, a year when the boys football team also won the state championship. Both teams were coached by James Hole (hat tip: Berkeleyside reader Tad Brillhart for providing a slice of Yellowjacket history).

Yellowjackets boys basketball team on Thursday morning, before traveling to Sacramento for the state final. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Berkeley High boys hoops win first NorCal title since 1921 (03.21.16)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...