ANAHEIM — This time, Goliath won.
Coming off a stunning upset of Long Beach Poly, Santa Monica High School’s girls’ basketball team couldn’t keep the magic going against Mater Dei Tuesday at the Anaheim Arena as the Vikings were eliminated from the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs, 57-37.
Mater Dei, ranked No. 3 in the nation in a number of polls, advances to the division final against Brea Olinda, which is considered the consensus top team in America. Samohi is left to ponder what went wrong as the Vikings attempted to repeat as a CIF-SS champ.
“Beating Poly was such a high,” Head Coach Marty Verdugo said. “But, we didn’t keep that up as we had a slow start.”
Mater Dei, true to form, raced out to an 18-5 lead after the first quarter, something Verdugo said his team couldn’t allow. The Vikings were able to battle back and ended the half down 28-19.
Samohi opened the third quarter by scoring the first two baskets to shave Mater Dei’s lead to 5 two minutes into the period. But, that would be as close as the Vikings could get as Mater Dei ended the third up 40-30, a lead they would steadily build upon.
“Santa Monica had our attention,” Mater Dei head coach Kevin Kiernan said. “But, we thought we could outlast them.”
The game was the second meeting of the season for both teams with Mater Dei sweeping the series. Kiernan said that this second meeting was reminiscent of the first with Mater Dei running out to a big lead only to have Samohi catch up before losing steam.
“We just wanted to do what we did before, better,” Kiernan said.
Mater Dei was led by UConn-bound Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who led all scorers with 20 points. She also pulled down 12 rebounds.
Samohi was led by University of the Pacific-bound point guard Kristina “KJ” Johnson, who scored 12 points in defeat. Senior Bianka Balthazar added 7 points of her own. Balthazar has signed to play for Long Beach State next season.
“We’re disappointed not to win tonight,” Samohi head coach Marty Verdugo said. “But, I couldn’t be more proud of these girls.”
Despite the loss, Samohi has qualified for the state tournament, which begins next week.
Brackets have yet to be released, but it doesn’t matter to the Vikings, who vow to do what it takes to keep the season alive.
“We have to shake [the loss] off,” UCLA-signee Moriah Faulk said. “We have to get back on our grind at practice.”
Verdugo, who earlier this season announced that this would be his final year as head coach, said that emotions haven’t set in because the Vikings lived to play another day.
“I believe that we should go deep into the state playoffs with this team,” Verdugo said. “These [players] have the hearts of warriors.”