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The girls Santa Monica High School girls Varsity basketball team celebrate with each other after beating the #2 rank ed high school basketball team in the nation at Long Beach Poly inside Poly's Gym located on the campus of Poly High as Poly hosted Santa Moncia High School on Wednesday February 23rd 2011 as SAMO travelled to Poly for the quarter finals of the Southern Secion Divsion 1AA girls basketball playoffs. (photo by Morgan Genser)

By SLAV KANDYBA

Special to the Daily Press

LONG BEACH Bianka Balthazar’s inspired play led Santa Monica High School’s girls’ basketball team over national powerhouse and defending champion Long Beach Poly Wednesday night, as the Long Beach State-bound forward sunk a free throw with .4 seconds left on the clock to secure her team’s 57-56 victory.

Samohi’s three NCAA Division 1-bound stars, Moriah Faulk, Balthazar and Kristina “KJ” Johnson scored a combined 42 points of the team’s 57 (Balthazar 17, Faulk 15 and Johnson 10) but it was tough defense and hustle to the offensive boards from Briana Harris and Ahmani Fatari-Daniels that paved the way for the Vikings to shut down the Jackrabbits when it mattered.

Balthazar had four blocks and rebounded well on both ends of the court. When Faulk went to the bench in the third quarter with four fouls. It was Fatari-Daniels who played big minutes in her absence, something that Faulk was quick to acknowledge following the game.

“I just knew they’d step up when I got in [foul] trouble,” Faulk said. “They never stopped playing … That’s why we won this game.”

The hard-fought upset of the Jackrabbits, who defeated the Vikings (22-8; 8-2) earlier this season in a non-league game, means Samohi head coach Marty Verdugo’s team is still in the running to repeat as CIF-Southern Section champs, this time in the tougher Division 1AA.

“This is one of the best feelings of my life,” Verdugo said. “I can’t say how proud I am of these girls.”

But, before the team can consider a repeat title, the Vikings will have to beat a vaunted Mater Dei squad in the semi-finals at Anaheim Arena on Tuesday. The Vikings couldn’t dislodge Mater Dei at home in January, taking a 70-54 loss.

Throughout the regular season, Verdugo stayed on message that playing top competition would allow his team to become familiar with its opponents in time for a rematch. Still, the coach prepared his squad specifically for Long Beach Poly’s play.

“We worked on not letting them down the lane,” Verdugo said. “We talked about [the possibility that] someone would have to be at the free-throw line” to win the game.

The game-changing play came with about 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Long Beach Poly’s Sheila Boykin dribbled down the middle of the lane for a lay-up, but Balthazar was in position to take a charge and the referee called it in her favor. The defensive play swung the momentum of the game, tied 47-47 at the time, in Samohi’s favor.

“Charges change the game,” Verdugo said.

Balthazar, whose late-game heroics and solid play on both ends of the court propelled her team to victory against a hard-nosed opponent, was tepid in her response regarding the Mater Dei rematch.

“We just have to look at it as the next step,” she said.

Samohi plays Mater Dei at the Anaheim Arena Tuesday at 4:45 p.m.. The winner will move on to the CIF-SS Div. 1AA title game.

news@www.smdp.com

Daniel Archuleta contributed to this report.

Samohi looks for rooters

Santa Monica High School officials are organizing a pair of rooter buses for a CIF-SS semi-final matchup between the girls’ basketball team and Mater Dei.

The game will take place Tuesday at the Anaheim Arena at 4:45 p.m. The Vikings were succesful in gathering 250 fans for a quarter-final matchup against Long Beach Poly on Wednesday. They are trying to organize twice that number this time around.

For more information, contact Assistant Coach Marisa Silvestri at msilvestri@smmusd.org.

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