MORAGA, Calif. – With three seconds left and trailing by three in the CIF state Northern Regional Open Division championship final against No. 3 seed Modesto Christian, top-seeded Campolindo pushed the ball ahead to star Aidan Mahaney for a desperation shot at a tie. The ball bounced several times on the rim, almost as if it were teasing the Cougars and all their home fans in attendance, before finally falling out, sending the Crusaders into delirium. Modesto Christian defeated Campolindo, 56-53, to punch their ticket to Sacramento on Saturday.
Super sophomore Jamari Phillips and St. Mary’s College-bound Mahaney went toe-to-toe, and each did everything they could to will their team to victory. Phillips scored 20 points, including eight in the final 1:19, and collected nine rebounds for Modesto Christian (30-5). Mahaney poured in 27 points, including 18 in the second half, and had five rebounds and three assists for Campolindo (28-2).
“Early in the year we we had some issues...they finally bought in and now they’re reaping the rewards,” Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. “This whole playoff run they’ve been locked in and focused and to beat Campolindo we had to do that.”
Fantazia credited Phillips for not “shy(ing) away from the moment” and Alex Argander and BJ Davis for their defense.
“We struggled rebounding, we struggled with some effort plays, you do that in a game like this you’re not gonna win,” Campolindo coach Steven Dyer said.
Modesto Christian started the second quarter with a mini 6-0 run, part of an overall 10-0 run that started with 1:15 left in what was a seesaw first quarter. The Crusaders had as much as a 10-point lead and ended the first half up 34-25. In the latter half of the third quarter, Clay Naffziger sank a three-pointer that cut the lead to 40-37. It was to that point only the second basket from beyond the arc for a team that has the ability to rain in threes with regularity.
Mahaney then tied it with a three-point play, and on an ensuing play hit one from deep to give the Cougars their first advantage since the 1:43 mark of the first. Manasse Itete took a little shine off the euphoria by gathering a ball that had been saved from going out of bounds by Campolindo and knocking down a three with the time nearly run out to send it to the fourth 45-43 Crusaders.
The fourth saw neither team stake much of an advantage. Campo took a 47-46 lead at the 2:34 mark, and BJ Davis converted a drive 30 seconds later. It was after a timeout with 1:40 remaining that Phillips pushed Modesto Christian firmly atop. He hit a fade way three-pointer from the wing with 1:19 to go, then after a Matt Radell free throw, sank another from the top of the key to make it 54-48.
He would miss the front end of a one-on-one on two successive possessions, but on the second of these he corralled a loose ball rebound, drove a few steps into the key, and pulled up for a jumper, knocking over Mahaney in the process, and banking in the shot with 15.5 seconds left. His celebration of the play earned him a technical foul, giving enough room for Mahaney to almost give the Cougars one last chance single-handedly. He made both free throws, then promptly sank a three on the inbounds play.
Phillips was again sent to the line and again couldn’t hit the free throw. Radell had the rebound, but Zeke Davis popped the ball out of his grasp and got it back to Phillips. He once more failed to ice the game, setting up the inbounds for Campolindo under Modesto Christian’s basket with 3.2 seconds showing on the clock.
Justin Yasukochi passed the ball to Mahaney, who drove up the right side of the court where he was picked up by two defenders, switched to the left, and pulled up about halfway between the half court line and the three-point line for the final shot.
“I’ve never ended my season on a loss, so I was looking at the scoreboard and it didn’t feel real yet,” Mahaney stated. “It was tough but...I can leave with my head held high for this program, this game, this season.”
BJ Davis added 12 points, Itete had nine points, seven rebounds, and two assists, and Prince Oseya tallied eight points, six rebounds, and three blocks for Modesto Christian. Shane O’Reilly chipped in nine points and eight rebounds, Naffziger scored eight points, and Radell tallied seven points and six rebounds for Campolindo.
Modesto Christian, who is 2-2 all-time in State Championship games, will face Centennial. It will give Phillips, who is amongst the top 20 sophomores nationally, his biggest stage yet.
“I knew that if they lock in, and we all listen to each listen and we play hard, we can pull through this win,” Phillips said. “For me to provide and help and push through this season, and get us here, it means a lot.”
For Campolindo, it’s a bittersweet ending to what has been a remarkable four-year run for Mahaney and the Cougars. Campolindo won the State Championship in 2019, the last time CIF had State Championship games. The Cougars defeated De La Salle in the NorCal Regional final in 2020 but didn’t have the chance to repeat in Sacramento as the pandemic canceled the event (Campolindo and SoCal winner Ribet Academy were subsequently named co-State Champions). Then in 2021, Mahaney and his squad went undefeated at 15-0 in the playoff-less season. Overall, Campolindo was 96-15 in the four-year span.
“Everything that we’ve accomplished this last four years is unprecedented for a public school,” Dyer said.
“To be honest I didn’t meet a lot of the goals I set,” Mahaney reflected. “It was state championship every year. I wanted NCS all four years and I only got it this last year. My junior year it hurt a lot of the things I wanted to do...To be able to deliver and leave a historic mark on what I was able to do with my teammates, means a lot to me.” He added that he’d been playing for years with Bennett and Radell, and the trio won AAU Championships before coming to Campolindo.
“Looking at that second-place medal, I know I have a lot more ball ahead of me and I think this is going to make me a better player,” Mahaney concluded. “This is going to be a fuel that drives me that’s going to carry over into next year.”