The creation of the state's new Open Division in basketball has opened doors for additional teams to participate in the Northern California regional playoffs.

The Campolindo and College Park High boys teams have taken advantage of the opportunity, and both are now playing for Northern California titles in their respective divisions.

"It's Christmas every day," Campolindo coach Matt Watson said. "We got that second and third gift when you weren't expecting anything. The kids are cherishing every minute of it."

As recently as 2009, North Coast Section teams needed to reach the section championship game to earn a trip to the NorCal playoffs. The field expanded in 2010 to include all four semifinalists.

Neither Campolindo nor College Park even made it that far this year, losing in the NCS quarterfinals.

The Cougars, after earning a first-round bye in Division III as the No. 2 seed, dropped their playoff opener to San Marin 62-57. College Park, the No. 5 seed in Division II, lost to No. 4 Montgomery-Santa Rosa 56-54. Both knew their seasons could be over.

The Open Division, however, gave them hope. As the highest seeded teams to lose quarterfinal games, both teams were in line to receive a NorCal berth if a team from their division was selected for the Open.

So when Newark Memorial moved from Division II to the Open and Bishop O'Dowd was plucked from Division III, College Park and Campolindo were given a second life. For Campo, the NorCal berth was delayed a few hours when the CIF erroneously put Miramonte in the field instead.


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"You get new life because of the Open Division," College Park coach Craig Battle said. "You lose this late in the season, it does something to you. Dreams slip away. To get another opportunity, the kids play with a little more sense of urgency."

The road wasn't easy for either team, as both had to deal with three straight road games.

The No. 11 seed Falcons (25-5) opened with a road trip to Chico, where they gutted out a 55-52 win. They followed that up with a 67-59 win at No. 3 Mt. Eden before taking down No. 10 St. Francis-Mountain View 85-82 on Tuesday.

College Park now heads to Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena on Saturday at noon to face Dublin (26-6), another team which benefitted from the Open Division by receiving the No. 1 seed when three top teams from Division II (Archbishop Mitty-San Jose, Newark Memorial and Serra-San Mateo) were moved up.

"There's a buzz around this whole area, this whole community," Battle said. "So many times in the past, a lot of the schools have been so dominant. Now there's light at the end of the tunnel, and we have a chance to get something accomplished."

No. 10 Campolindo (22-8) has already taken down No. 3 seed El Cerrito and No. 2 Enterprise-Redding, as well as No. 7 Burlingame. The Cougars get a crack at the top seed when they face defending NorCal champion Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco (20-11) on Saturday at 8 p.m. at American Canyon High.

"I know there's people saying 'They don't deserve what they got,' " Watson said. "We're going to have to go through 1, 2 and 3. That's not luck."

While both coaches are more than happy to seize the opportunity, they point out the flaws in the system.

"My heart goes out to Newark," Battle said of the NCS champs eliminated in the first round of the Open Division playoffs by Mitty. "Those guys had a heckuva season. It seems like something is not right."

Watson agrees and suggests that the Open Division should be cut down to four teams or that teams that lose should get a chance to return to their original division and resume playing in NorCals.

"I want the best team from Northern California in the state title game," Watson said.

Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.

ONLINE EXTRA
Visit www.contracostatimes.com/high-school-sports or www.insidebayarea.com/high-school-sports for a live blog from Saturday's Northern California basketball championships. The live blog begins at 10 a.m.