ANAHEIM — The clock struck midnight for Santa Monica High School’s boys basketball team’s title hopes on Saturday against Leuzinger in the final of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1A playoffs.
The same Samohi Vikings team that lost to Leuzinger, 58-39, at the Honda Center on Saturday made it to the final despite long odds. The Vikings came into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, but played like anything but. The team breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, routing Quartz Hill and Dana Hills in the process.
A surprise 40-39 upset win against top-seeded Chino Hills in the third round had the Vikings looking more like Cinderella. After dispatching No. 4 seed Colony last week in the semi-finals, it looked like Samohi had a chance.
Then came the Leuzinger Olympians.
Samohi was overmatched from the start as the Olympians sprinted out to a, 22-5, lead at the end of the first quarter. Leuzinger’s Colroy Gordon led the Olympians with six points in the quarter.
The Vikings appeared to be a bit nervous on such a big stage.
“We were fumbling the ball a bit,” Samohi Head Coach James Hecht said. “We were just a bit tentative.”
The Vikings were just one of 10 from the field in the first quarter with Soloman Singer going 0-4, all 3-point attempts. Singer would finish the game with four points, over 10 points below his season average.
On the other side of the court, Leuzinger Head Coach Reggie Morris said that he recognized Samohi’s slow start as an opportunity for his team to pile it on, something that both he and Hecht said was uncharacteristic of the Olympians.
“We just went with the flow of the game,” Morris said. “When we saw that they were having trouble scoring we knew that this could be our night.”
Of the four Leuzinger game films that Hecht and the Vikings analyzed, each one featured a Leuzinger team that struggled during first quarters.
“We didn’t expect them to start like that,” Samohi’s James Montgomery said.
Hecht said afterward that he was surprised to see the Olympians so sharp early on, which wasn’t a good sign of what was to come.
Leuzinger followed the strong first quarter with just nine points in the second. Samohi failed to take advantage of the lull in scoring and trailed 31-15 at the half.
“We just couldn’t get our rhythm right,” Hecht said. “We were passive.”
The Vikings didn’t make a game of it until midway through the fourth quarter. Samohi entered trailing, 46-24, but slowly whittled down Leuzinger’s lead to 50-36 with three minutes to play.
“We finally started playing with a sense of urgency,” Hecht said. “We tried to go on a run, but they got a stop and scored a couple of quick baskets to end that.”
Despite the loss, Samohi will be invited to the state tournament, but drawing a home game in the first round may be tough because of the way the Vikings lost on Saturday and its No. 8 seeding.
Hecht said he’s happy that his 10 seniors will get another chance at a title, but lamented what would have been his first CIF-SS title in 16 years as head coach.
“This is a tough pill to swallow,” he said during the post-game press conference.
Samohi was led on offense by Montgomery, who scored 10 points. Danilo Toskoic and Corey Walker added seven each.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Hecht said. “They did a lot to get here.”