In an era of unprecedented player movement, Oak Park High's basketball team is on the verge of becoming one of the few neighborhood teams to earn a spot in the eight-team Southern Section Open Division playoffs.
The Eagles (16-6) took a giant step with a 57-54 overtime victory over Corona Centennial on Saturday in the Rolling Hills Prep State Preview Classic at Cerritos College.
Riley Battin, a 6-foot-10 senior headed to Utah, had 31 points and 11 rebounds. He contributed the only three points of the overtime period.
The Eagles are still considered a bubble team for the Open Division but they've faced seven teams in The Times' top 25, winning three times. They've competed against No. 1 Torrance Bishop Montgomery and No. 2 Etiwanda.
"Wherever they put us, they put us," coach Aaron Shaw said. "I just want to keep getting better."
Centennial (13-9) has played an even tougher schedule than Oak Park with a young team featuring three exceptional sophomore guards in DJ Davis, Jaylen Clark and Paris Dawson. Dawson scored 23 points in the second half, including 17 in the third quarter, to help the Huskies rally from a 13-point deficit. Davis scored 15 points and Clark 13.
But the Huskies' youth leads to sometimes ragged play, and it cost them. Oak Park was able to survive sophomore guard Clark Slajchert fouling out with 5 minutes 44 seconds left. The Eagles briefly went into panic mode as Centennial took advantage of shaky ball-handling and Slajchert's absence.
For seniors Battin and Wes Slajchert, Oak Park's rise is satisfying.
"It's awesome," Battin said. "I've been playing with Wes since I was 7 years old. He's been like a brother. It's been a good journey."
With two weeks left in the regular season, there are still some big matchups remaining. Fairfax plays host to Westchester in a Western League game Wednesday and Santa Ana Mater Dei is the site for the annual Nike Extravaganza on Feb. 3.
Bishop Montgomery appears on its way to an unbeaten regular season. The Knights are 22-0 after a 60-43 victory over Fairfax. David Singleton finished with 16 points. The story of the Knights is balance. They have a team that's unselfish and full of contributors. Josh Vazquez had 11 points and Fletcher Tynen 10. Fairfax received 24 points from Ethan Anderson.
In other games, Onyeka Okongwu scored 31 points in Chino Hills' 75-56 win over Santa Monica. Payton Moore led Santa Monica with 17 points.
Sam Clareman scored 31 points in Brentwood's 65-46 win over North Hills Heritage Christian.
Rolling Hills Prep defeated Loyola 44-33. Alex Garcia scored 12 points and Chris Koon had 10 points. Irvine Crean Lutheran defeated Long Beach Jordan 63-54. Isaiah Johnson scored 22 points. Taft was beaten by Utah Wasatch Academy 76-61 despite 29 points from Kihei Clark.
Jaime Jaquez scored 41 points in Camarillo's 67-62 win over El Camino Real.