GARDENA — Santa Monica High School’s girls’ basketball team has picked up where it left off last season.

The defending California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1A champs defeated Serra of Gardena, 62-57, in overtime on Saturday to win the Inglewood Circle of Champions Tournament. The game was played at Serra.

“Serra was tough,” Samohi Head Coach Marty Verdugo said. “What made it difficult was having to go down there and beat them on their own court.”

The Samohi Vikings had to rally from a 28-21 half-time deficit to force the overtime. Moriah Faulk led all scorers with 23 and was six of six from the free-throw line in OT.

The Vikings’ second half push was surprising given that four starters were saddled with four fouls each.

“It’s funny because it seems that this team knows how to not foul out,” Verdugo said. “They did a good job of defending without getting called for that final foul.”

Samohi’s Bianka Balthazar was named MVP and point guard Kristina “KJ” Johnson was named to the all-tourney team. Verdugo said he was surprised that Faulk wasn’t honored. It was the second time that the UCLA-bound Faulk scored 23 points during the tourney.

The win improves Samohi’s record to 5-0, the best start in Verdugo’s five years as coach. Also, the win was the first preseason tournament that the team has taken home in that time.

Next for the Vikings comes the Redondo Tournament, which begins this week. The field includes fellow Ocean League teams Beverly Hills and Inglewood, Bishop Montgomery and Long Beach Millikan. The Vikings open against Peninsula on Tuesday at Redondo High School.

“This should work out well for us,” Verdugo said. “I like our chances.”

daniela@smdp.com

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