By Liat Levin, Berkeley High Jacket Sports Editor
Berkeley High School’s boys’ soccer team captured its first North Coast Section championship in 13 years on Saturday night, defeating perennial powerhouse De La Salle in a thrilling shootout after a 1-1 deadlock through regular time and two overtimes.
The winning goal in the 4-3 shootout was scored by junior Paul Joseph, who had been promoted from the junior varsity for the NCS tournament. His winning strike was his first-ever touch for the varsity team. After Joseph’s successful stab from the penalty spot, De La Salle’s Logan Tingley had a chance to extend the shootout, but his tame kick into the middle of the goal was saved by Yellowjacket goalkeeper Róin Flynn. Teammates and Berkeley High fans stormed the field and mobbed Flynn after the save.
To quote Tiez Allison – "…it just shows that you don’t have to be an EBAL team to perform well in NCS. You can be Berkeley.” ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/WpFmjJOPMm
— BHS ATHLETICS (@BHSjacketSports) February 26, 2017
The Yellowjackets had reached the final after overtime wins in both the quarterfinals, against Foothill High School, and semifinals, against top-ranked San Ramon Valley.
In Saturday night’s final against De La Salle, at neutral Dublin High School, Berkeley started strongly. The beginning of the match saw a lot of good possession and chances for the Jackets, which added to the wild energy of the strongly Berkeley crowd — a constant force throughout the match.
Berkeley’s starting line-up featured six seniors, four juniors and one sophomore, a relatively experienced 11 for the biggest game of the season. The first half saw an even match in the midfield with great ball control by Senior Captain Arturo Verdin who out-jumped players much taller than him, and both teams had decent stretches of possession and a few chances. The 0-0 score at halftime reflected the even match.
BHS Athletic Director Britta Fjelstrom spoke of Berkeley’s strengths in the first half, noting, “They really play as a team… I don’t see people playing for their own glory. I feel that they are all playing for each other.”
The second half began with a couple of good chances for Berkeley, but when junior Nick Lukan, whose long throw-ins had been a valuable asset to Berkeley throughout the season, went down with an injury with 35 minutes left in regulation, a goal was beginning to seem less likely. But the squad perked up when senior Tiez Allison subbed back in with 27 minutes left in regulation. Just five minutes later, a long drop kick by goalkeeper Flynn fell to Allison who speedily out-dribbled the De La Salle defense and sent a left-footed shot into the back of the net. The route one goal sent a roar through the fans and Berkeley’s bench leaped up to celebrate what looked like a potential winning goal.
Never count out De La Salle though, a team that won six straight NCS titles from 2008 to 2014. Even though Berkeley looked to have momentum immediately following its goal, De La Salle’s sudden intensity, combined with some small lapses in focus for Berkeley, allowed a De La Salle goal with just six minutes left in the game. There were several good opportunities for both sides following the De La Salle goal, but neither team could put it away, so the game headed into overtime.
NCS overtime is composed of two 10-minute “golden goal” periods, meaning that a goal scored at any point ends the game.
Both overtime periods were evenly matched, with some close shots for Berkeley and De La Salle. However, no winner was decided before the whistle signaled the end the second period of overtime, so Berkeley’s fate would be decided by the always unpredictable penalty kicks.
Senior captain Arlo Moore-Bloom took and made the first shot, followed by a save by Flynn. Senior Max Peterson and De La Salle’s Wyatt Hattich both scored in the next round. The third round saw two misses — a crossbar hit for Jacket junior Yohannes Kalonji and another save by Flynn. Senior Max Heintz made his shot along with De La Salle’s Ian Nicolas. In the fifth round, Flynn took his shot but De La Salle goalie Jake Kirkpatrick saved it, and another goal for De La Salle followed. After five rounds, the score was 3-3. In the sixth round, junior Paul Joseph’s goal followed by Flynn’s save clinched the title for the Yellowjackets.
A sea of students, parents, and fans poured down from the stands and out onto the field to congratulate the newest Division I boys soccer champions of NCS.
Ever calm, cool and collected, goalkeeper Flynn said, “I knew that I could trust my teammates to win… we practice penalties a lot in practice, I knew that they’d score theirs.”
Flynn, the hero of the shootout with three saves, said that the win “felt like a long time coming.” Peterson said, “there’s nothing better,” and senior Darius Wekwerth said “it’s indescribable.”
With 11 seniors leaving this year, the team faces a period of rebuilding, but the win cements Berkeley as a formidable opponent to look out for in the upcoming years.