It was a dream play for Santa Monica High School senior Akil Gainer and it came on a big stage for the Vikings.
With less than two minutes remaining in the Southern Section Division IAA playoff quarterfinal game against Long Beach Polytechnic High School Friday, February 24th, Santa Monica junior Bryan Louff picked up a steal and dribbled the ball down the court, where he saw Gainer.
Louff lobbed the ball by the basket and Gainer slammed it down, giving the Vikings the boost they needed to hold off the Long Beach Jackrabbits for a 53-52 victory in front of their packed home crowd.
“It was like a dream,” Gainer said of the play that gave the Vikings a 48-43 lead.
“We’ve been practicing and planning it. It was my first alley-oop.”
The victory put Santa Monica (20-9) in the playoff semifinals, a place that many people didn’t expect the Vikings to reach this season after they finished tied for second in the Ocean League.
“It feels real good,” said Gainer, who finished with ten points in the win over Poly.
“People said we couldn’t make it and we came out and proved them wrong.”
Santa Monica, the 14th seed in Division IAA, lost 62-58 to second-seeded Long Beach Jordan High in the semifinals Tuesday, February 28th.
The Vikings were unable to avenge an earlier 57-44 loss to Jordan in order to reach the Division IAA final.
Santa Monica coach James Hecht credited his team with being able to “make the plays” against Poly (18-11), but he also praised the home fans with helping the Vikings rise to the occasion.
“I thought, ‘Why not us?’ ” Hecht said of reaching the semifinals. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to play tonight and we’re fortunate to get the victory.”
The Jackrabbits held a 37-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Santa Monica picked up its defense and went on a 7-0 run to take a 41-37 lead with 5:46 remaining in the game.
The Viking offense got a boost of energy from the alley-oop play by Gainer and continued to hold a narrow lead despite the late challenge from Poly.
After Poly cut the deficit to 50-49, the Jackrabbits committed an intentional foul that allowed Louff, who finished with seven points, to make two critical free throws and gave Santa Monica possession.
When Poly was forced to foul again with six seconds remaining, Louff made another key free throw that secured the Viking victory.
Poly senior Kevin Buggs, who had a game-high 14 points, hit a last-second three pointer but it was not enough.
“I felt the guys were able to keep their composure tonight,” Hecht said. “Hats-off to Poly. They’re a good team.”
While both teams were closely matched throughout the game, Poly grabbed the early advantage with an 11-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, after junior David Chlebowski scored six of his 12 points.
The Jackrabbits continued their offensive momentum for most of the second quarter, but Santa Monica began to climb back with strong offense of its own.
A free throw by Gainer gave the Vikings their first lead at 21-20 with 2:17 remaining in the quarter and they held the lead until the last second, when Chlebowski hit a lay-up to tie the score at 23-23 at halftime.
A three-pointer by Louff at the start of the half gave the Vikings their only lead of the third quarter, but Santa Monica never let Poly get too far ahead.
Poly senior Chris Brown, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, made a free throw with 30 seconds left to give the Jackrabbits a three-point lead at the end of the third quarter, but Santa Monica then took over.
Senior Will Freedman led the Vikings with 13 points. Senior Dominique Christopher added five points in the victory.
UPDATE ON SEMIFINALS
The Vikings’ run to the Division IAA title game ended in the semifinals after a 62-58 loss to Long Beach Jordan High at Long Beach Millikan Tuesday, February 28th.
Santa Monica outscored Jordan 18-9 in the final quarter, but was unable to take over the lead.
Junior Bryan Louff led the Vikings with 17 points, including four three-pointers.
Jordan will now play Los Alamitos High in the finals.
BY VINCE ECHAVARIA
In other high school boys basketball playoff games:
The Westchester High School Comets got their revenge against rival Fairfax High School Friday, February 24th, and it happened at a point in the season when it counted the most.
The Comets (23-6) suffered losses in both regular season games against the Fairfax Lions (24-3), who captured the Western League championship this season over second-place Westchester.
But Westchester was able to get back at Fairfax when it really mattered.
In the Los Angeles City Section Championship Division semifinal game last Friday, fourth-seeded Westchester regained the bragging rights in a 79-63 visiting victory over top-seeded Fairfax.
The Comet victory not only ended the season for Fairfax, but it allows Westchester to try to defend its city title against third-seeded Taft High School in the city championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 3rd, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Westchester, which won the State Division I championship last year, has also clinched a spot in the Division I regional playoffs this season.
While the Comets lost both games to Fairfax earlier this season after giving up halftime leads, Westchester was not about to let that happen in the city playoffs.
The Comets took control early on and went into halftime with a comfortable 15-point lead, which they never surrendered.
Junior forward Dane Suttle came up big on offense for the Comets by scoring a game-high 32 points, including 18 points in the first half.
Comet senior guard Ahmaad Cook finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Jarred Dubois and senior forward Brett Goodwell each added ten points for Westchester.
For the third consecutive season, the St. Bernard High School Vikings’ run for a Southern Section Division IVAA title came to an end against Campbell Hall High School.
The Vikings (18-12) missed the Division IVAA championship game by one round after losing 74-59 to Campbell Hall in the semifinals at Crespi High School Friday, February 24th.
After finishing in second place in the Del Rey League this season, St. Bernard reached the playoff semifinals with a narrow 49-48 win over Whittier Christian High.
In the game against number-one seeded Campbell Hall, the Vikings managed to tie the score at 34-34 at halftime, but Campbell Hall took control in the second half and held St. Bernard to just nine points in the final quarter.
Senior guard Winsor Williams led St. Bernard with 20 points. Viking junior guard Ryan Jones finished with 11 points and senior center Jonathan Lucas added nine points and ten rebounds.