ANAHEIM — At halftime of the CIF Southern Section Division 1A boys basketball game, Temecula Valley senior Scott Hollingsworth entered the locker room without any bruises.
Things had changed by the time the game ended.
“I’m all knocked up now,” he said afterward.
He had Santa Monica High to blame. With a gritty, physically tenacious performance Saturday morning at Honda Center, the top-seeded Vikings overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to push past the Golden Bears, 66-60, and capture a section championship.
It was the fifth section title in the history of the program for Samohi, which has reached the finals eight times in the last 92 years. It was the squad’s second CIF-SS championship under coach James Hecht, who guided the team to the throne four years ago. And it was the 24th consecutive victory this season for the Vikings, who haven’t lost a game since Dec. 11.
Of course, this win stood out from the others in a stellar campaign that has included just two losses. Star senior Jonah Mathews bounced across the court, overcome with joy. Teammates danced in a celebratory mob.
Moments later, school principal Eva Mayoral swung the championship plaque over her head and shook it towards supporters in the stands, who responded with a loud chant: “Samo! Samo!”
It took a special team to make it happen, Hecht said.
“The chemistry, the love, the care, in my 22 years at Santa Monica, is second to none,” he said. “These guys have fun together, they enjoy being around each other, they push each other, they challenge each other. When they step off the court, there’s a brotherhood there. It’s unbelievable. That was the key ingredient to our success this year.”
After cruising to an Ocean League title with an undefeated record in conference play, Samohi stormed through the postseason. The Vikings topped Long Beach-Cabrillo in the opening round and edged Moreno Valley-Valley View two days later to reach the quarterfinals, where they clobbered Palmdale-Highland. They punched their ticket to the title game with a 68-45 rout of Burbank-Burroughs in the semifinals Feb. 26.
In a championship game that featured seven ties and 12 lead changes, Samohi overcame poor shooting and sloppy execution with clutch plays down the stretch at both ends of the floor.
Mathews, who finished with a game-high 33 points despite a subpar performance from the field, drained a 3-pointer with 1 minute 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give his team a 57-55 lead.
And he had plenty of help from his friends. On the ensuing possession, senior forward Mikhail Brown took a charge. Mathews flexed and let out a yell. Sophomore wing Rip Economou extended the Vikings’ edge to four on a putback with 1:11 left. And after sophomore guard Isaiah Johnson forced Temecula Valley into a turnover with defensive pressure in the backcourt, Mathews threw punches into Johnson’s chest.
“The game wasn’t over yet, but I was so excited,” Mathews said. “That was one of the biggest moments of the game right there.”
The Vikings extended their cushion to 63-57 on two free throws by junior guard Antonio Holley III with 45 seconds left.
“Jonah gets a lot of attention,” Hecht said. “He’s the heart and soul of our team. But these guys have proven that he’s got a great supporting cast.”
After shooting just 24.2 percent from the field in the first half, Samohi outscored the Golden Bears 42-25 after halftime. Hecht’s squad outrebounded a much taller opponent 46-36 and forced 20 turnovers.
The Vikings were lucky to be in striking distance after a disastrous first half, Mathews struggling to find the range and Temecula Valley breaking through full-court pressure for several easy baskets. But junior guard Roderick Henley II scored all nine of his points in the first quarter to keep his team close.
“There are not many instances where Jonah’s off,” Henley said. “But when he’s off, other people have got to step up. We just had to help him out a little bit.”
Economou added seven points for Samohi, Johnson and Holley each finished with six, Brown had three and senior guard Chailen August chipped in two.
DeWayne Holmes scored 15 points to lead the Golden Bears, who received 12 points apiece from Hollingsworth and Riley Schaefer.
Two days before the title game, Mathews took to Twitter to explain his anxiety.
“The only thing I care about right now is Saturday,” he wrote.
His message after the victory: “Ring us.”