Santa Monica High School’s state championship run is over after Tuesday night’s loss to Palisades Charter High School, but coaches, parents and players said there is plenty to be proud of this season despite falling a game short of the team’s first-ever state finals appearance.
The Vikings jumped out to an early lead in this week’s contest but eventually fell to the Dolphins on the road 51-36. However, the score hardly tells the complete story.
The line stretched out the door well after 5 p.m. Tuesday as fans rooting for both sides packed into Pali High’s gym to get a glimpse of the action.
Heading into the game with five playoff wins and a total of 15 consecutive victories since December, Samohi’s girls basketball team was confident it had what was needed to make Saturday’s state championship in Sacramento; But so was Palisades High.
The Dolphins scored the first basket of the game before Samohi and its star seniors spun, drove and charged their way to an 8-4 lead with less than 2 minutes left in the opening quarter. Undeterred, Palisades launched a 3-pointer, which brought the game to 8-7. Seconds later, a forced turnover prompted another 3 that gave the Dolphins a 10-8 lead with a mere two seconds remaining in the first.
Both stands rocked as the second began, especially when referees called a technical foul on a fall and entanglement that included Moawad and a few Dolphins.
A free throw by Palisades’ Sammie Arnold put the dolphins up 12-8 shortly before another score extended the lead to four points early in the second. Samohi would cut the lead to two points a few minutes later but another Arnold basket extended Pali’s lead to five. Both teams would continue to go back-and-forth throughout the quarter.
With less than two minutes in the half, a floater by the left-handed Karen Garcia put Samohi down four. An ensuing Dolphins’ turnover gave Santa Monica an opportunity to make it a one basket game prior to the close of the half, but a missed layup kept the score steady at 22-18.
A quick bucket by Palisades out the gate followed by a 3-pointer shortly after put the score at 27-18, where it would remain until a reverse layup gave the Dolphins their first double-digit lead of the game. Samohi would inch back with free throws and a driving layup by Iternite Reed with a little over a minute left in the third quarter.
With seconds left, Reed confidently sank a 3-pointer to close the quarter and make it a 4-point game (31-27) heading into the final 8 minutes of the game.
Chants of “Let’s Go Samo!” “Let’s go Pali!” competed while players on the floor began the fourth quarter of play.
With 6:25 left in the game, Reed sank two free throws to make the score 33-29. But back-to-back layups and a 3-pointer that resulted from a Samohi turnover put Palisades up 11 with a little more than 4 minutes left. The eventual Division 2 Southern California Regional champions would continue to extend their lead before the final buzzer sounded with the scoreboard showing 51-36.
Though some players were emotional following the loss, the Vikings gathered to pose for pictures with teammates, coaches and their CIF State Division 2 Southern Region Runner Up plaque shortly after the conclusion of the regional championship.
“Wow, was it an electric and supportive Santa Monica atmosphere last night. It felt and sounded like it was a Santa Monica home game in the Pacific Palisades,” Assistant Coach Mark Ulrich said.
“I could not be more proud of a group of young student-athletes. These young women exemplified everything that is good about public education in a community that cares,” Ulrich added. “We are a diverse group of kids in every way imaginable, and yet found a way to truly connect and support each other at a level that is required to be champions, which these girls were and are. What a season!”