SAMOHI — With a showdown with the top-ranked team in the country looming, Santa Monica just got better.

As the Vikings girls basketball team prepares for Saturday’s Mater Dei game, the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section reversed course and has granted Bianka Baltizar, a transfer from Arizona, the right to play. CIF-SS officials initially denied her eligibility in December, claiming that she had “inappropriate contact” with a former Samohi coach. A CIF-SS source said she knew the coach through a club league, a violation of bylaws.

“New information was presented to the commissioner by the family that resulted in reversing his decision,” said Thom Simmons, CIF-SS’s director of communications. He didn’t elaborate further.

Head Coach Marty Verdugo said that, as part of the team’s appeal, he submitted a letter explaining the situation.

“CIF hardly ever overturns a decision,” Verdugo said. “I knew we did nothing wrong.”

Baltizar was allowed to play in last night’s Ocean League game against Hawthorne, but results from the game were unavailable at presstime.

Verdugo expects Baltizar to immediately contribute. He said he wasn’t sure if she’ll crack the starting lineup against Hawthorne, but she will play significant minutes.

Although she wasn’t allowed to suit up for games, CIF-SS rules allowed for her to continue practicing with the team. Verdugo said that time gave the power forward the opportunity to learn the plays and her teammates’ habits.

Her versatility in both the post and handling the ball gives the Vikings a dual threat who can pound it inside or stroke it from distance,

“She’s like a female version of Charles Barkley,” he said. “She’s already getting a lot of college attention.”

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