SAMOHI — Coach James Hecht likes flying under the radar.

His Santa Monica High School boys basketball team came into the season as the hip pick to win the Ocean League. The Vikings stormed out to a 13-2 preseason record and had the look of a team destined to be crowned league champs.

A pair of league losses later made the road to the league title — and a playoff berth — appear a lot more rocky.

The team righted its ship and finished the season third in league and earned a spot in the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section Division I-A playoffs.

The no. 10 seeded Vikings entered the playoffs with a little less attention and promptly reverted to that early season form defeating Montclair High School, 74-53, on the road setting up a second round home game against no. 4 seed Chaparral from Temecula today at 7:30 p.m.

“It is just a group of guys that want to do well and want to succeed,” Hecht said of his team. “We acknowledge where our slippage was in certain areas. We kept our focus.

“It is very easy for a team to hang its head when things don’t go well. We’ve kept our heads up.”

Injuries to key players were a major factor during that mid-season slump, but it appears those problems have been resolved. Senior forward/center Kunnu Shofu’s sprained thumb may have limited his production earlier this season, but it showed no signs of weakness during the first round game against Montclair. His 15 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots powered the Vikings to an easy victory.

“[The thumb] was all right,” Shofu said. “I was kind of shaky at first, maybe a little nervous. I got more confidence as the game went on.”

He started the game by missing a few lay-ups, which was upsetting for the noted playmaker.

“I play better when I’m angry,” he added.

Hecht was pleased to see his big man play with urgency and believes that was a difference maker in the game.

“We attacked the basket really well,” Hecht said during practice on Thursday. “We played with fire in the belly from beginning to end.”

The veteran coach hopes the fire his team started during round one carries over to tonight against a quality Chaparral team, which is the no. 4 seed in the playoffs.

“I’m confident that if we play the way we have,” Hecht said, “we have a good opportunity.”

daniela@smdp.com