Piedmont boys basketball comes up short in NCS final

Piedmont's Ravi Silverberg (3) drives past University's Jordan Chau (20) on his way to a layup against University in the North Coast Section Division 3 championship game on Feb. 23. Silverberg led the Highlanders with 23 points but the Red Devils prevailed, 65-55. (Photo by Damin Esper)

There was a moment early in the fourth quarter. Piedmont High School’s Ravi Silverberg buried a 3-pointer to put his team up over University-San Francisco, 42-41. The crowd at War Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of the University of San Francisco was fired up.

So were the Highlanders.

“We can really do this,” Piedmont’s Brit Burden thought. “Let’s get a stop.”

Alas, it didn’t happen that way. The bigger, deeper Red Devils had been pressing the Highlanders all game long and it’s the fourth quarter where playing just six players most of the night comes back to haunt a team. University pulled back in front and won 65-55 in the North Coast Section Division 3 championship.

Silverberg led Piedmont with 23 points. Burden, the focus of the University defense all night, had 16. Dillon Casey was held to six.

Thorin Holmes (20) Henry Brockland (2 white) Arjun Bornstein (2 gray) and Will Perkins against University on Feb. 23. (Photo by Damin Esper)

The Red Devils were led by Gus Fried and Lucas Lau with 16 apiece. Coal Boake had 13 and Gus Parsons had 10.

Both schools advance to the California Interscholastic Federation championships, which begin Feb. 27. Brackets were announced on Feb. 25.

“Depth this year was a challenge for us so that press come fourth quarter, (we) didn’t have the legs, guys weren’t able to flash and cut as hard as they had the first three quarters,” Piedmont coach Ben Spencer said. “(University coach Randy Bessolo) goes nine-, 10-guys deep and eventually it kicks in in the third and fourth (quarters).”

Piedmont’s Lucas Malecki (4) tries to find space to operate as University’s Will Perkins (15) and Gus Parsons (23) defend during the NCS Division 3 championship game at USF. (Photo by Damin Esper)

University ended up outscoring the Highlanders 24-13 after Silverberg’s 3-pointer. Mistakes compounded things.

“A couple of threes went down for them, and next thing you know, we’re down eight, 10,” Silverberg said.

Added Burden, “They just hit a few threes, which was tough, and then we had a few lapses on the press.”

Spencer felt the same.

“We were right there,” he said. “A lot of the things tonight were self-inflicted wounds. Turnovers that we don’t usually make, offensive rebounds we gave up which we don’t usually give up. I think of their 65, they probably scored 25 off of offensive rebounds and turnovers.

“You have to give credit to them and how they came out and were relentless with that press.”

The teams met in December when University dominated in a 93-61 win. Bessolo called that an “aberration.”

Spencer changed up his defensive game plan but Burden said the current version of the Highlanders is different from the team that played that game.

“I think we’re a completely different team now,” he said. “You can say it’s the defense, you can say it’s our scout, but we’re all bought in. We play as a team, we work as a team, we do things outside of practice as a team. I think us being bought in as a unit changed things.”

That was a theme Spencer brought up. Piedmont was 5-5 after that December loss to the Red Devils, then rallied to 20-10 entering the state tournament. The fifth-year coach said that he’s equally proud of this team as he is of the 2020 team that won the first NCS championship in school history.

“It’s a tossup,” Spencer said. “I think as coaches, and as players we both challenged each other for the rest of the way to make sure we play 100 percent every game for the next 24 games and we did that. I’m really proud of this group for what they accomplished.

“(The 2020) team, there was an expectation of NCS or bust. This group, at some point, I think coaches and players, it was like, “Man if we can go 13-13 and sneak into the playoffs, maybe that’s a successful year.” Somewhere after Bishop O’Dowd and Berkeley (a close loss and a win), I think coaches and players started believing, “Wow, we could be very good.” We pushed that to a 15-4 end of the season, eight wins in a row and we got back here which is an experience the kids will remember forever.”

University (27-5) has now won three consecutive NCS titles.

“The last one we actually lost was to Piedmont,” Bessolo said. “We’ve played them every year now, they’re always good, there’s a lot of mutual respect and we’re now 1-1 in NCS games and I’m sure there will be a rubber match next year.”

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