SAMOHI — As the season winds down, Santa Monica High School’s boys’ basketball team holds its playoff destiny in their hands.

Currently in fourth place with a 4-4 Ocean League record, Samohi’s matchup up with third place Morningside today at home has taken on heightened importance.

A win would tie Samohi for third place with one regular-season game remaining. If both teams win their final games on Thursday, it would create a tie for third place in a league that is granted three automatic playoff berths. That tie would be settled during a one-game playoff on Friday to determine the league’s final playoff entry, said Wendell Yoshida, president of the South Bay Athletic Association, the body that governs the Ocean League.

“We have no choice, we have to win,” Head Coach James Hecht said. “We can’t look too far ahead, so we’re just focused on Morningside.”

Morningside defeated Samohi earlier this season, giving the game a little added motivation for Hecht and his Vikings.

Despite a slow start for a team that lost the top 11 players from last season’s squad that was the runner-up in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1A playoffs, the Vikings have been able to reel off four straight league wins.

Hecht attributed the slow start to his team’s inexperience, but said that the Vikings have finally bought into his teachings, setting the stage for this week’s playoff push.

“Everyone has stepped up their performance and execution,” Hecht said. “The seniors have taken ownership of the team. They have been the leaders for us.”

Hecht singled out seniors Logan Foster and Jeremiah Shevlin as a pair of players who have been instrumental in the Vikings’ turnaround.

While the seniors have recently grown into leadership roles, the Vikings had been primarily paced by sophomore Jordan Mathews, who transferred to Samohi this year. Mathew’s aggressive style on offense has been a boon to his team all season, but Hecht said that at times his teammates “stood around” and watched him do his thing during the early part of the campaign. Hecht said that has changed in recent weeks as the team learns to play together.

“People finally understand that if we’re going to do anything, it can’t be a one-man show,” Hecht said. “It has to be a team show.”

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