The Oakwood boys basketball team pauses for a photo after their quarterfinal win against Colusa in the NorCal quarterfinals on March 1. Photo: Oakwood School

The Oakwood boys basketball team won the Central Coast Section Division V title for the Morgan Hill school’s first section championship in any sport. And it did not come easily. 

After smashing Nueva 84-43 and Thomas More 75-51 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Hawks faced a powerful opponent in Summit Shasta on Feb. 24 at Mission College in Santa Clara. The Black Bears had beaten them earlier in the year.

“We were down 10,” Oakwood coach Joseph Lampkin Jr. said. “But these guys stepped it up. They know how to close a game and win.”

Down the stretch of a back-and-forth battle, Oakwood senior Marko Milentijevic knocked down the go-ahead shot, a 3-pointer with 2:01 left to break a 55-55 tie. With the Hawks clinging to a 60-59 lead in the final seconds, the Black Bears came up court for a potentially game-winning bucket. 

But Oakwood’s Vidal Nzoyem made a history-making play with two seconds on the clock. The sophomore blocked Sam Valdemoro’s short jumper to preserve the one-point lead and secure the title.

“We (Oakwood) have never won any championships before,” Lampkin Jr. said. “Our depth helped us win; we had eight players score. We’re shooting the ball better than ever. Scoring has gone up and our guys are more confident. And we improved our defense.”

Milentijevic led the Hawks with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony Felix added 15 points and six rebounds; and Damion Brown scored 11 points. Nzoyem made major inside contributions with six points, six rebounds and five blocks. Shasta was led by AJ Solanoy with 26 points, Rhod Robles with 11, Jared Chin with 10 and Valdemoro with eight.

Oakwood lost their star point guard, Langston Watson, early in the season due to an ACL injury. Watson was the Pacific Coast Athletic League, Mission Division MVP the previous year. With that and other injuries, the Hawks were a bit overmatched in the higher Gabilan Division this season, putting together a 3-9 league mark. 

But as the year wore on, experience from tough competition hardened and improved the Hawks. Players returned to health, and Hollister transfer Felix became eligible. Milentijevic remarked that the rough road made the team stronger.

“We’ve been looking like a brand new team,” Lampkin Jr. said. “This group is coachable. They’re young.”

Oakwood’s Mark Milentijevic goes up for a shot against Colusa March 1 in the NorCal Division V playoffs. Photo: Oakwood School

After winning the CCS title, the Hawks moved on to the NorCal Division V playoffs. Oakwood notched its first-ever NorCal win, a 69-53 win over Caruthers. In that game, they broke away from a 29-26 halftime lead with a 15-0 charge at the beginning of the third quarter. Milentijevic and Felix each scored 16 points. A full-court pressing defense, led by Mateo Juarez, Brown and Bryce Smith-Kenney was key to the success.

Next up was a quarterfinal battle between the Hawks and the Colusa RedHawks. Oakwood trailed early, down 19-11 after one period. By halftime, they had climbed on top, leading 35-31. The second half was a fierce battle, and the Hawks prevailed 69-65.

Oakwood moved into the NorCal semifinal on March 2, against San Domenico in San Anselmo in Marin County. The Hawks battled foul trouble, a collapsing and trapping Panthers defense and cold shooting. The contest was evenly-matched for three quarters, with the hosts leading Oakwood just 31-27 at that point. 

San Domenico pulled away in the final period and won 49-36, closing Oakwood’s season at 15-15. It was a season with a host of historical accomplishments.

“The boys played as hard as they could,” Lampkin Jr. said. “I am proud of them. The shots just weren’t falling. They (San Domenico) were pretty aggressive. They did a box-and-one on Marko and that wore him down some. And we didn’t make our free throws.”

In the finale, Milentijevic led the Hawks with 15 points and Nzoyem added eight. Felix scored seven and Casteneda contributed six points. San Domenico was led by Gavin Early with 17 points. The homestanding Panthers advanced to the NorCal final, where they fell last week to Athenian of Danville, the eventual CIF State champion.

“I have a lot of respect for Oakwood,” San Domenico coach Tyler Gaffaney said. “Their program is really strong. We looked at Marco—he’s their go-to guy. We rotated different bodies to faceguard him. It’s a sign of respect. He’s a helluva player.”

The overall Oakwood record may not have appeared all that impressive on paper because of the tough competition and injuries on the team. But those hard contests in league play paid off in the end. The Hawks have advanced into CCS play every year since 2011-12 but had not reached the final until last year, when they lost to Priory.

Oakwood’s Vidal Nzoyem goes up for a shot against Caruthers in the first round of the NorCal Division V playoffs. Photo: Oakwood School
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