Revenge was sweet for the Santa Monica High School Vikings girls basketball team, which clinched its second consecutive Ocean League championship with a 60-48 league victory at home over Beverly Hills High School Friday, February 3rd.
The Vikings (18-2, 7-1) had suffered their only league defeat of the season against the Beverly Hills Normans (12-8, 4-4) in a narrow 44-42 loss January 18th.
Santa Monica’s only other defeat this season was against Marlborough High in a 69-57 loss December 7th.
While the Vikings were riding high as the top team in the league before the rematch with Beverly Hills Friday, they were ready to claim the league throne with a vengeance by avenging the earlier loss to the Normans.
With the victory over Beverly Hills, Santa Monica continued its reign over the league for the second consecutive year, after the Vikings shared the league title with Morningside High last year.
“It’s huge,” Vikings coach Marcus Charuvastra said of this year’s league title. “It means so much to these seniors who played their very last (regular season) home game.
“It also gives us momentum going into the playoffs.”
The league title most likely secures a home game for the Vikings in the first game of the Southern Section playoffs, he said.
Santa Monica has had a dominating regular season, but Beverly Hills knew the Vikings could be defeated and the Normans were prepared to battle.
Beverly Hills grabbed the early edge and went into the second quarter with a 14-10 lead, after a five-point effort by junior guard Allison Galer, who finished with a game-high 18 points.
The Normans maintained the scoring advantage for most of the second quarter, as Santa Monica struggled with shooting.
But the Vikings finally warmed up on offense and closed the gap to 22-19 after a three-pointer by junior Allie Southam with three minutes remaining in the quarter.
A free throw by sophomore guard Daisy Feder gave the Vikings their first lead of the game at 23-22 with two minutes remaining, and Santa Monica completed a 15-2 offensive run to take a 27-22 lead into halftime.
“We focused on shutting down their main scorer and rebounding,” Charuvastra said.
The Vikings continued their aggressive play at the start of the second half, as junior Emily Foshag, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, picked up a steal and returned it for a lay-up.
Santa Monica remained in control throughout the third quarter and stretched its lead to as much as 40-28 after a three-pointer by sophomore Katy Keating.
But a last-second three-pointer by freshman Sophie Payson, who finished with 12 points, put Beverly Hills behind 40-31 heading into the final quarter.
The Normans were not about to let Santa Monica cruise to the league title, and they began to climb back by forcing Viking turnovers with strong defense.
After Beverly Hills narrowed the deficit to 48-46, Santa Monica turned up its offensive attack and began to pull away again.
Senior forward Monica Zell scored seven points in the final quarter and Keating and Foshag each added six points to help Santa Monica hold off the charge by Beverly Hills on the way to another league title.
Keating finished with 17 points and Zell scored nine points in the game for Santa Monica.
The Vikings have earned their back-to-back league titles only two years after finishing with consecutive losing seasons, and Charuvastra said he is proud of how the athletes have “bounced back.”
“We’ve built back slowly to get to this point where we’re tough to beat at home,” he said.