SAMOHI — A quarter of stingy defense may have wrapped up an Ocean League title for the Vikings.
By allowing just three points in the fourth quarter against Inglewood during a 47-42 victory on Wednesday night, Santa Monica’s girls basketball team controls its own destiny as it heads into the final three games of the season. The first hurdle for the Vikings (17-6 overall, 7-0 in league) will come tonight at Beverly Hills as Samohi tries to retain its perch atop the league standings and secure a favorable seeding for the playoffs. If Samohi wins a league title this season, it will be their third in four years having finished second to Inglewood last season.
“Our defense stepped it up,” Head Coach Marty Verdugo said. “That’s what stood out. We needed to play great defense and hit our free throws.”
While only scoring eight points on the night, newcomer Bianka Balthazar led the charge late in the game. She made a pair of fourth quarter free throws to put Samohi up 43-42 after trailing for much of the game.
“She was big,” he said of the player who just last week was cleared by the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section after initially being denied eligibility. “Now she’s understanding where she needs to be, what spots to be in.”
He praised her ability to understand the team’s strategies. As she learns more of the system, “she can take her game to the next level,” Verdugo said.
Leading the team on offense was Thea Lemberger with 18, equaling her season average.
Despite the fact that Samohi defeated Beverly Hills earlier this season, Verdugo said he’s cautioned his players to stay focused.
“We don’t want to slip up at all,” he said. “We’ll have to be ready, I know they will.”