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Oak Lawn’s Omar Saleh enters winner-take-all game vs. Eisenhower as relative unknown. And now? ‘Feels great.’

Sophomore forward Omar Saleh was listed on Oak Lawn’s junior varsity roster in programs that were handed out for Tuesday night’s game against Eisenhower.

Saleh, though, not only played for the varsity but was took on the role of heroic figure for the Spartans in a huge win that locked up their third straight South Suburban Red championship.

“I decided this is the game I had to go all out and give it my all,” Saleh said. “I tried to shoot my best shots, get the best passes and box out the best I could.

“It feels great. I like helping my team win.”

Saleh came off the bench to score 14 points and pull down six rebounds, helping Oak Lawn outlast the host Cardinals for a 62-54 victory in a winner-take-all game for the title in Blue Island.

Donte Montgomery led the Spartans (21-7, 12-1) with 18 points and seven rebounds. Jack Dempsey scored 10 points, while Corey Lee and Henry Martinez added eight points apiece and Kyle Brennan grabbed 10 rebounds.

AJ Abrams scored 18 points, including 16 in the second half, and also contributed seven rebounds for Eisenhower (23-7, 11-2). Micah Calvin added 13 points, Ayipey Salinas had 11 and Darrion Pippen chipped in with nine.

It has been a wild ride for Saleh, who earlier in the season often pulled double duty in JV and varsity games.

“I was double-rostered early in the season,” Saleh said. “Nonconference games, I’d play both JV and varsity. Conference games, I’d play JV and then sit on the bench for varsity and try to bring up the energy as much as I could.

“I’d get my reps in for JV and then watch the older guys play at a different level. They have more experience, and watching them helped a lot.”

Saleh began playing varsity full time in the new year.

“He started playing more for us when Corey (Lee) was hurt,” Oak Lawn coach Jason Rhodes said of Saleh. “He just plays super hard. He’s a very good rebounder, a good communicator, and he plays good defense.

“That was the stuff we needed. It doesn’t hurt that he can shoot it a bit, either.”

Saleh showcased that shooting Tuesday night like never before, hitting all six of his shots. That included a pair of 3-pointers.

“I think his high game to this point was like five points,” Rhodes said. “He scores 14 in a game like this, which is amazing. He gave us everything we needed.”

In the nip-and-tuck affair, each of the first three quarters ended with a two-point lead for Oak Lawn.

The Spartans finally took control down the stretch, with Saleh providing five key points in the fourth quarter.

“Effort,” Montgomery said. “That’s what (Saleh) brings. He goes out there trying to get every rebound. He’s playing hard every practice, no matter what we’re doing he’s always going hard.

“That translates into the games.”

On top of that, Saleh has gained confidence as the past six weeks have gone on.

“I took the good things and the bad things from practice,” Saleh said. “I saw the older guys make mistakes. I watched them do the great things that they do. I took everything to my game and tried to work on my skills as much as I could.”

Entering the 2021-22 season, Oak Lawn had not won a conference title in 39 years. Now, the Spartans have won three in a row.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Rhodes said. “It took so long to break through with that first one, and now to do it three times in a row is great, especially this year because I think our (South Suburban Red) side is better than the other (South Suburban Blue) side.

“It definitely wasn’t easy.”