MORAGA — When it was over Wednesday night — when Campolindo had won again and its student section celebrated at midcourt in a sea or red — star player Aidan Mahaney soaked it all in.
Campolindo played terrific defense after halftime — a point of emphasis in the locker room at the break — and rolled into the North Coast Section Open Division boys basketball championship game with a 70-56 victory over Northgate.
The top-seeded Cougars will play host to second-seeded De La Salle on Friday night.
Campolindo has won 20 in a row and 45 of 46 over the past two years, a run that includes three victories over De La Salle.
But, as Mahaney pointed out, this group has not won an NCS championship.
To get a shot, Campo (26-1) had to beat one of its league rivals for the third time this season. The previous two games against Northgate were closed, with the Cougars winning by six and three points.
The semifinal was tight into the second half — Campo led 38-35 at intermission — but the advantage stretched in the third quarter as the home team elevated its play and reached double digits in the fourth.
Mahaney was proud of the effort.
“Obviously over the last four years we’ve had a lot of really big wins and things of that nature,” he said. “But to beat a team in the best league in Northern California three times — a really, really good team — that means a lot.”
Now the Cougars will take aim on winning their first section championship in 14 years.
For Mahaney, the title wouldn’t just be for the current roster.
“As much as it is for this year’s team, it’s also for last year’s team that didn’t even have a chance,” Mahaney said, naming Emmanuel Callas, Chase Bennett, Maxwell Weaver, Cole Curtiss, all seniors last spring when Campo went 15 -0 but had no postseason because of the pandemic.
“Those guys never even got a shot at it,” Mahaney said. “We’re not only carrying on our team, what we want to do this year, but we’re carrying on what our last year’s team wanted to do as well.”
The way the first half unfolded Wednesday, it wasn’t a certainty that Campo would survive to see the championship game. Northgate (20-7) matched the Cougars basket for basket in an up-tempo opening 16 minutes.
The Broncos trailed by three at the end of the first quarter and by three at the end of the second.
Campo hadn’t played since closing out the regular season on Feb. 12, a 10-day break that coach Steven Dyer said affected his team’s defense in the first half.
“We needed some rest, but 10 days was a little much,” Dyer said.
Dyer and his staff corrected the issues at halftime and the game turned after the break, with center Matt Randall making his presence felt at both ends of the court. He scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter.
“We thought we had an advantage inside with him and he did a good job,” Dyer said.
Campo also got productive minutes off the bench from Justin Yasukochi, who scored 10 points in the second quarter and finished with 16 to match Mahaney for tops on the team.
“I just need to come in and bring energy and do what I do,” Yasukochi said. “It doesn’t matter if I start the game or come off the bench, I am going to do the same thing.”
Northgate’s RJ Anderson also had 10 points off the bench in the second quarter. He finished with 12.
Thayne Merrill led the Broncos with 14 points.
“What helped us throughout the first half is we were patient, we looked to execute our stuff and then I think we just got a little antsy coming out in the second half, trying to force-feed stuff,” said Northgate coach Michael Shaughnessy, whose team qualified for NorCals next week by being selected for the NCS Open Division. “By the time we were down seven, eight, nine — whatever it was — we were back to playing catch up.”
Clay Naffziger scored nine of his 11 points in the first half for Campo, which got at least eight points from all of his starters.
Campo improved to 17-0 against Northgate in the MaxPreps era, which dates to 2004.
Photos: Campolindo 70, Northgate 56
(Pictures can be purchased here)