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CIF-SS Div. 4AA BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS – Artesia rallies in the final seconds of regulation before knocking off Oakwood in quarterfinals


February 23, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


Being the top-ranked team in your division means you have a huge bulls-eye on your back and the other 31 teams are gunning for you harder. Artesia High found that out the hard way last Friday night against Oakwood High in what head coach Jeff Myles called the best win of the season so far.

The Pioneers scored the first two baskets of the game, fell behind with 4:38 left in the fist quarter and didn’t regain the lead until 55.1 seconds were left in the first half. Then, the 605 League champions trailed the entire second half until sophomore Zion Staples sent the game into overtime with a basket off a turnover with 5.1 ticks left in regulation. From there, the Pioneers had enough to pull out a 57-53 overtime win that moved the team into this past Tuesday’s semifinal contest against Fullerton High.

“That was an amazing game,” said Myles. “We were down by six…and it looked bleak, and our senior leader, our captain, [senior] Miles [Jennings] hit a big three. That was a momentum swing. It gave us a shot.”

Oakwood, which entered the game with a 13-13 mark, led 49-43 with five minutes remaining on consecutive three-pointers from Owen Sacchi. But sophomore Aaron Banks converted a three-point play 21 seconds later, then hit a pair of free throws with 2:27 left to make it a four-point game. That set the stage for Jennings, who had four points entering the fourth quarter, but came up big when it mattered.

Jennings drained a three-pointer with 1:48 left in regulation to make it a one-point contest. The next score would come on a free throw from Ben Eisendrath with 31.3 seconds left and when he missed the front end of a one on one with 15.9 seconds left, senior Jordan Kirkwood grabbed the rebound which set up the game-tying basket.

“That’s credit to Oakwood,” said Myles. “They were 13-13 but they played great teams. If you look at their schedule, they played Price, they played Beverly Hills, they played Capo Valley. They played good teams, so I knew they were going to be ready for the challenge. Even though they were 13-13, that was one of the best teams we played so far and that’s why we were losing.”

Jennings scored the first three points of overtime and held a 55-51 lead before the Owls responded with free throws from Peyton Slaughter and Eisendrath, the latter coming with 1:16 left in the game. Kirkwood added a free thrown with 34.4 seconds left, but the icing on the cake came when senior Yutong Zhang picked up a steal with 12.4 seconds left and junior Andrew Noquez scored the last point of the game.

The Owls came out of the gates on fire with Slaughter hitting consecutive trifectas in the first quarter on turnovers. It would be part of a 12-0 run and enabled the third place team from the Liberty League to maintain its lead until the final minute of the half. Artesia would turn the ball over six times in the opening stanza and 22 times in the game. On top of that, two starters would foul out of the game.

“I don’t think they were pressuring us,” said Myles. “I think we were pressuring ourselves. We had a great crowd tonight and they were kind of playing to the crowd and it got a little out of control.”

Banks led the Pioneers with 16 points and had eight rebounds, Staples had a quiet 13 points and 11 rebounds and Jennings added 12 points. But the story of the first three quarters was Eisendrath, who had 18 of his 20 points in the first three quarters, including 11 in the third quarter.

“He’s a good player,” said Myles. “We watched four films on him and…he scared me. I knew we couldn’t do anything funky on him because they have great shooters. So, we couldn’t go to a zone; we couldn’t go to a box. We just had to take the challenge and guard and great players…you’re not going to stop any great players. You have to make it tough on them and I think we made it tough on him.”

The Pioneers, however, would be denied of the program’s first trip to a divisional championship game since 2007 when unranked Fullerton upset Artesia 58-56 this past Tuesday night. Much like the Oakwood game, the Pioneers trailed most of the game. Artesia ends the regular season at 26-6.

Artesia never led in the first half and at one point, was down by 11 points with 5:05 remaining before halftime. The hosts, playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season with the bleachers on the west side of the gymnasium open, closed out the first half on an 11-3 run and would not take their first lead until Banks connected on a three-pointer with 2:08 left in the third quarter. The lead lasted 15 seconds and the next time Artesia was in front came 50 seconds into the fourth quarter when Staples scored on a putback. But the Indians regained the lead for good 18 seconds later.

Throughout the second half, the Pioneers stayed within no more than two possessions of Fullerton, trailing by a point six times and two points another five times. Neither team scored in the final 1:10 of the game as the Pioneers were unsuccessful on their last four shots from the field.

Banks led all scorers with 21 points, had nine rebounds, three steals and two assists while junior Steve Anderson Jr. added eight points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists.