15-0! Campolindo completes pandemic-shortened boys basketball season undefeated

East Bay power Campolindo overcomes injuries to key players and a heavyweight schedule to win every game this spring.

15-0! Campolindo completes pandemic-shortened boys basketball season undefeated

Call it a perfect ending to an imperfect year.

Campolindo High School finished off a 15-0 season Wednesday night as you’d expect, with a suffocating defense that enabled the Cougars to consistently be greater than the sum of their parts.

The end came against a Las Lomas team that entered with a 1-9 record, with the last real chance for anyone to beat Campolindo coming the previous evening in a 65-49 road win over Miramonte in Orinda.

The Bay Area News Group’s No. 1 ranked team fended off every challenge in its wake this season, and that included not only a formidable schedule that featured heavyweights Salesian, Bishop O’Dowd and Archbishop Riordan but the consistent threat of COVID-19 interruptions as well as injuries to star guard Aiden Mahaney and sophomore Logan Robeson.

Campolindo is no stranger to success, winning the NorCal Division I title a year ago before the pandemic canceled the state title game. The Cougars won the Division II state title the previous year.

Campolindo’s Shane O’Reilly shoots past Miramonte’s Caden Breznikar (24) during a game Tuesday night in Orinda.  (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

There will be no hardware or wild on-court celebration in 2021, only the more reserved contentment that comes with a perfect record.

The loudest cheers in the 75-41 rout of Las Lomas on Wednesday were for Campolindo’s four seniors, particularly the late baskets by reserve Cole Curtiss.

The method for success was stifling in its simplicity — a defensive challenge on every possession that wore down the opposition and eventually caused a complete cave-in.

Even when Campolindo had the Miramonte game under control in the fourth quarter, starters on the bench were imploring reserves to prevent points on possessions down the stretch.

“We’re hungry every single game, every single quarter to get stops,” senior forward Emmanuel Callas said. “A lot of teams, if they don’t come out balling, then we’re going to be feasting on defense. We have a lot of hard workers and we take it personally getting stops as a team.”

With much of Campolindo’s offense coming from its effort on defense, five Cougars finished the Miramonte showdown in double figures — senior guard Chase Bennett with 13, junior guard Cade Bennett, sophomore guard Shane O’Reilly and Callas with 12 each and junior center Matt Redell with 10.

Mahaney, getting some minutes for the first time since cutting his hand on the rim two weeks ago — he played with his right hand taped — even got into the act with six points including a fourth-quarter dunk.

For Miramonte (9-5) Niyi Olabonde had 14 points, with Tyler Dutto and Caden Brezniker adding 11 each.

The Matadors trailed 33-21 at halftime and against the suffocating Campolindo defense, a 12-point deficit may as well be 25. But Miramonte fought back in the third quarter and was within 42-36 on a Dutto three-pointer with less than five minutes to play in the period.

But that’s when Campolindo does what it does best, contesting every shot to the point where there may as well be a lid on the basket.

Over the next nine minutes, Campolindo outscored Miramonte 15-4.

Campolindo’s Chase Bennett drives to the baeket while being defended by Miramonte’s Niyi Olabode (23) on Tuesday night. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Long stretches without scoring were commonplace for Campolindo opponents. The Cougars gave up just 45.5 points per game and had 17 quarters in which they gave up less than 10 points.

“I think that’s been one of the keys this year,” Campolindo coach Steven Dyer said. ” We talked about grinding out stops, and in the second half we had that stretch where we kind of broke the game open. It’s not like we were great on offense today, but time and time again, our defense has shown up this year.”

Free and easy offensive practice sessions are not part of Dyer’s program.

“We work on defense so much in practice,” Chase Bennett said. “Coach Dyer harps on defense. That’s what we pride ourselves on, and we have a lot of smart guys that know when to help, where to help and who needs help.”

While Dyer’s teams have been known for having tough one-on-one defenders, the 2021 Cougars took it to the next level in terms of everyone knowing everyone else’s business in the defensive scheme.

“We’ve always had really good individual defenders, but this team has exceeded what my expectations were,” Dyer said. “The team defense is the thing that’s been the biggest surprise and what has led us the entire year.”

Callas, who along with Chase Bennett emerged as senior leaders that helped guide Campolindo through a season where every game was seemingly in jeopardy pending COVID-19 tests, rearranged his thinking at the outset about what he wanted out of 2021.

“I suspected there wasn’t going to be playoffs, so I took this season as a playoff,” Callas said. “In playoffs, you win or you go home, and we kind of took every single game like that. I mean, you could not be playing the next day because some guy on your team gets COVID. So every single game is a playoff environment because you don’t know if you’re getting another game.”

Chase Bennett also tried to put his unusual senior year into perspective.

“I mean, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” Bennett said. “It stinks, but there’s a lot of people that are getting worse. We’ll get 15 games and that’s better than a lot of other teams.”

Not just 15 games, as it turned out. Fifteen games with zero losses.

“It’s really unfortunate we don’t have a chance to go to the playoffs because I think we have a lot of winners, and I think we would go far,” Callas said. “But at the same time, given the season, we made the most of every game. Not many people can say they went undefeated, regardless of the season.”

Miramonte’s Ryan Schwarz (11) is guarded by Campolindo’s Cade Bennett during their game Tuesday. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Campo’s perfect season

April 17 vs. Salesian: Win, 66-50

April 21 at Alhambra: Win, 77-33

April 22 at Piedmont: Win, 68-53

April 24 at Dougherty Valley: Win, 70-52

April 28 vs. Acalanes: Win, 60-23

May 1 at Archbishop Riordan: Win, 46-38

May 5 vs. Miramonte: Win, 62-48

May 6 at Northgate: Win, 77-62

May 8 vs. Bishop O’Dowd: Win, 56-47

Campolindo’s Cade Bennett, center, is doused with water by teammates after a 56-53 win at De La Salle on May 11. Bennett had 25 points, including a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left to win it. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

May 11 at De La Salle: Win, 56-53

May 19 vs. Clayton Valley Charter: Win, 62-33

May 20 at Acalanes: Win, 69-43

May 22 vs. Bellarmine: Win, 70-52

May 25 at Miramonte: Win, 65-49

May 26 vs. Las Lomas: Win, 75-41