SAMOHI — In the final minutes of the game, Santa Monica head coach James Hecht did something that will go down as one of the highlights of the season.
With a minute left, Hecht made a substitution and put in senior guard Matthew Tapia. Tapia took a pass from Ray Mancini and put in a two-footer as time expired to help the Vikings defeat Montebello 74-45 in the CIF-Southern Section Division IAA boys’ basketball playoffs on Friday at home.
After he made the shot, teammates and the student section rushed the court. It was his first points of his career and nobody was more excited than the exuberant Tapia, who has special needs.
“It was good, I made a good shot for my team and I wanted to win and go to the championship and state game and be league champs for my team. I made everyone share hugs,” he said. “I loved it.”
Tapia was born prematurely and suffers from a class 1 hemorrhage.
The fairy-tale story began when Vikings’ football players started chanting: “We want Matthew.”
So Hecht gave them what they wanted and put him in, and the spirited kid did not disappoint. He first hung around the three-point line but missed his first attempt, teammates told him to move in a little closer to the basket and that’s when he made the most of his opportunity.
Mancini, who was on the sharing end of the tear-jerking moment said after the game, “It was honestly everything worth this year.”
“When he hit that we all celebrated and were speechless. It was like one of those ESPN moments, I loved it.”
Mancini finished the game with 9 points and 6 rebounds.
The Vikings got out to a fast start with Jonah Mathews scoring the first nine points of the game and took a 20-5 first quarter lead. They doubled it and led 35-16 at halftime.
Along with Mathews, who finished with 12 points, three other players scored in double figures.
Santa Monica’s aggressive play and active hands were enough to rattle the Oilers early and force them into multiple turnovers.
Michael Mendoza led Montebello with 17 points and Andy Munoz added 13.
Hecht loved the effort from his team after going through a roller-coaster regular season.
“I really felt we had an outstanding week of preparation leading up to this game, we just had [some] great practices, focused, energized, they paid attention to detail they paid attention to little things and we felt like if we could take that and now the payoff would be tonight’s game,” he said. “So we’re happy for our guys I think they saw the fruits of their hard work on this. So it’s good to get a win and it’s good to move on to the second round.”
Santa Monica will host Rancho Cucamonga in the second round of the playoffs on Tuesday at 7 p.m.