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Left Trevis Jackson from the Santa Monica High School Boys Basketball team battles for the basketball with Marcus Malone from the Hawthorne High School boys basketball team inside the North Gym on the campus of Santa Moncia High School on Friday February 10th 2011 as SAMO hosted Hawthorne in an ocean league basketball game and won 75-64 (photo by Morgan Genser)

SAMOHI — When Santa Monica High School’s boys’ basketball team hits the court tonight for a first-round playoff matchup with Upland it won’t be the first time the Vikings have been in a pressure situation.

After starting the Ocean League season 0-4 with little hope of making the playoffs, the Vikings turned things around to the tune of six-straight wins to end the regular season. In the space of two weeks, Samohi went from last place to finishing the season second in league. With every contest being treated like a playoff game, the Vikings hit their stride, Head Coach James Hecht said.

“We could have easily folded mentally,” Hecht said. “But, to their credit, they have stayed focus. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Hecht said that it was his trio of seniors that resuscitated what appeared to be a lost season, propelling the Vikings into the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.

He credited the group, led by Holden Foshag, for galvanizing the team at a time when the Viking’s prospects for returning to the playoffs were dim.

“They have really taken ownership of the team,” Hecht said of his seniors, including Logan Foster and Jeremiah Shevlin. “We talked about playing with a sense of urgency. If there is any time for a sense of urgency, it was then.”

Making this late-season resurgence even more amazing was the fact that the top 11 guys from last year’s team that made it to the finals of the Division 1A playoffs all graduated. Left with a young team with little senior leadership, the Vikings struggled to find their rhythm.

“For all these guys, this is their first experience in the CIF playoffs,” Hecht said. “But, we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Our guys have done a nice job of keeping that in mind.”

The Vikings will certainly be quizzed by the No. 11 seeded team from Upland. Hecht said that Upland likes to play on the perimeter, something the relatively under-sized Vikings should matchup well with. The one concern Hecht has is matching Upland’s energy on their home court.

He said that the emphasis will be on protecting the ball while handling Upland’s pressure defense.

“They are going to be a good test for us,” Hecht said. “We feel confident.”

daniela@smdp.com