SAMOHI — Santa Monica High School’s girls basketball team rode a fourth-quarter rally to dispatch Rancho Cucamonga, 54-46, in the third round of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1A playoffs on Wednesday at home.
The Vikings outscored Rancho Cucamonga, 22-10, in the pivotal final quarter.
Samohi’s Thea Lemberger led all players with 32 points as the Vikings advanced to the semi-finals of the playoffs for the second straight year. Santa Monica will face Ayala on the road Saturday at 5 p.m.
“We really showed our maturity level,” Head Coach Marty Verdugo said of the comeback. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Samohi trailed at the end of the third quarter, 32-36, but it wasn’t long before Lemberger rose to the occasion and began pouring on the offense. She would score 14 in the quarter including a pair of timely three-pointers.
“Honestly, that’s the way it should have been the whole game,” Lemberger said. “We finally started making our shots.”
Moriah Faulk also factored into the late-game rally, scoring four in the quarter and 12 on the game.
Faulk missed the first two rounds of the playoffs with a knee injury, but was cleared to play by doctors late Tuesday.
The loss was difficult for Rancho Cucamonga Head Coach Dawnesha Buckner to stomach following the game.
“We lost our composure,” Buckner said. “We had more than a few missed assignments.”
She said her team’s fourth-quarter collapse was avoidable, but did credit Lemberger’s late-game heroics for winning the game for Samohi.
“She’s a really nice player,” she said of the UCLA-bound Lemberger. “She’s something to watch.”
Samohi’s Verdugo decided late in the game to move to a bigger lineup. He moved Lemberger to point guard and sat starter Kristina Johnson for stretches of the fourth. He was content with the result as Samohi used its height advantage by working the ball inside and drawing fouls that were converted into points.
Despite the absence of center Sabrina Norton, who left the team for family reasons just before the start of the playoffs, Samohi’s post players were able to blunt any attempt by Rancho Cucamonga to get back in the game as time ran out.
“They were playing an unorthodox style that wasn’t allowing our players to get ready to box out,” Verdugo said. “They kept throwing the ball toward the hoop and just jammed the middle to rebound. It took us a while to figure that out.”