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NORTH HOLLYWOOD — With less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter of the Oakwood boys basketball game, guards Ben Eisendrath and Peyton Slaughter went to the bench for their only break of the night.
When Oakwood coach Steve Smith called for subs, Eisendrath pleaded a case to finish the quarter, telling his coach, “I’m good.”
He may have been, but there’s no doubt Smith made the right call to give the duo a breather.
Both players checked back in to start the fourth and didn’t miss a beat, playing the rest of the way to lead Oakwood past visiting Valley View in an 81-74 playoff victory in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs Friday night.
The Owls (19-8) will travel to Newport Harbor for a quarterfinal bout on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
The pace of Oakwood’s practices was directly responsible for both Eisendrath and Slaughter being able to play at such a high level while almost never leaving the court.
“We try and make sure our practices are very intentional,” said Smith, who also serves as an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. “High-paced as much as possible to try and to emulate a game situation.”
Oakwood started its season 0-4, taking losses to programs like Maranatha and Agoura in that stretch, both of which went on to win their respective leagues this season. The Owls also played Windward, St. Anthony, Notre Dame/Sherman Oaks, Gardena Serra, and Saugus this year. All teams in much higher divisions.
Wes Spivak hits a wing 3ball for Oakwood. The Owls lead AGBU 21-14 in the second quarter in Canoga Park. Big Liberty League showdown. Small school supremacy on the line. pic.twitter.com/kAxDAIst5O
— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) January 25, 2023
It shows Smith’s philosophy on competition isn’t just in practice, it’s in the way he built the schedule, which has proven to pay off so far this postseason in Division 3A.
“Everything is competitive,” Smith added.
That competitiveness also explains why Eisendrath didn’t want to leave the floor for the last 88 seconds of the third; he wasn’t tired.
“When everyone’s into it and everyone’s engaged it’s just a more fun atmosphere,” said the senior point guard. “Everyone wants to work harder, wants to go the extra mile. We all push each other to get better. It pays off in games like this.”
Eisendrath poured in six of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter. He also added seven assists, six rebounds and five steals in the win.
“Having a guard like that is huge; a guard that can go and get a bucket anytime, but is also a great facilitator,” said Smith. “He’s the head of the snake but what we’re proud of is he’s pushed everyone else to get better.”
Slaughter helped anchor a defensive effort that kept Eagles guards frustrated all night. He came up with two late steals and a clutch 3-pointer that stretched the lead to a comfortable 12 points in the game’s final minutes. He finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
“They’ve been battle tested,” said Smith. “They know how to tempo the game – when to take advantage of what they’re giving us early or when to run clock. Having that experience out there is always a plus for us.”
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The Owls also got 13 points and six rebounds from Hayden Suslow and 13 points and three blocks from Oliver Ford
“We have six guys who think they’re the best player on the team,” said Smith. “And that’s great – we have guys who want to make plays.”
Oakwood, a small school with just 350 students, lost in last year’s Division 4AA quarterfinal to Artesia in overtime. It’s a game Smith knows the team won’t ever forget. He also knows it’s been a huge motivator.
“There were lots of tears,” Smith said of last year’s playoff loss. “They’ve been working ever since.”