As expected, the Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral boys’ basketball teams have advanced to their respective Northern California championship games.
Their opponents, however, will be significantly different.
Riordan (20-11), the No. 2 seed in Division IV, will take on Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa, which boasts a 31-3 record and the top seed in the bracket, while the Irish (20-11) will take on Campolindo, a team that wouldn’t have even made the state tournament under last season’s system, in the Division III title game.
The Cougars (22-8) are the No. 10 seed in Division III and gained entry to the tournament due to the new Open Division. The new system allows sections that have teams pushed from enrollment divisions into the Open to “backfill” the enrollment-division brackets with another team from that same section that wouldn’t normally qualify.
When Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland was pushed up from Division III to the Open, Campolindo, which was knocked out of the NCS playoffs in the section quarterfinals, filled the vacant spot and the Cougars have done wonders with that opportunity.
As the underdog in each round, Campolindo defeated No. 7 Burlingame, No. 2 El Cerrito (in overtime) and No. 3 Enterprise (by a 17-point margin), and will look to complete its Cinderella run with a final upset of the top-seeded Irish, who are also defending NorCal champs.
“From our perspective, it doesn’t matter,” Sacred Heart coach Darrell Barbour said of Campolindo’s run of upsets. “If they’re still playing now, they’re good.”
While Campolindo’s run has surprised many, Cardinal Newman’s path to the Division IV title game has shocked no one. The Cardinals dominated the North Bay League en route to a 14-0 regular-season record, then defeated Corning and Soquel to get to the NorCal title game.
Cardinal Newman also holds a significant size advantage over the Crusaders, with 6-foot-6 senior Corey Hammell (16.7 points per game), 6-5 senior Kyle King (8.1) and four other players at 6-4 or taller.
“We’ve seen them on film and in person, and they’re good in both,” Riordan coach Rich Buckner said.
Riordan will have likely advantages with overall team athleticism and with their rotation of guards, but both coaches recognize their greatest edge is that they are battle tested coming out of the West Catholic Athletic League, which boasts week-in-week-out competition that Newman and Campolindo haven’t come close to.
“Our league prepares us for anything,” Barbour said. “Not to take anything away from Campolindo, but we won’t be seeing a player like [Mitty star forward] Aaron Gordon for the rest of the year. Playing against that kind of player and against the kind of coaches we have in our league, it prepares us for games like Saturday.”