The Santa Monica High girls lost the game but won admiration for their sport on the last night of February.The Vikings were defeated by Canyon Springs High of Moreno Valley, 50-48, in a CIF semi-final playoff game at Crossroads High.However, by winning their quarter-final game three nights earlier at Chino Hills, 63-48, they advanced further in the playoffs than any Samohi girls basketball team in school history.Interest grew as the team kept winning and 1,000 people filled the Crossroads gym for the game. Samohi won a coin flip to pick the site but semi-final games can’t be played in a school’s home gym. Now Coach Marty Verdugo and his players hope their season isn’t over. An at-large berth is open for the state playoffs, and teams who lose semi-final CIF playoff games are considered.Samohi is 23-6 overall.Verdugo could barely speak the day after the game, his voice cracking.“I used to do work for the San Antonio Spurs and I’ve been told when your team goes deep into the playoffs the intensity rises, no matter what level of basketball it is,” he said.“I wanted the girls to have this experience. It’s something they’ll always remember. The gym was packed, the noise was unreal, and neither team led by more than five points.”Samohi missed 14 of 27 free throws and had problems dealing with the opponent’s greater size.With a chance to make a game-winning play near the finish, Samohi couldn’t get the ball in-bounds. So it appeared to be a one-point defeat, but the visitors made a free throw just ahead of at the final buzzer.The agony of defeat was preceeded by the joy of victory earlier in the week when the team made the long trip to Chino Hills and rolled to a historic win – the first in the third round by any team in school history.Junior guard Thea Lemberger scored 27 points, senior forward Ellesse Brandis had 19, and guard Jennie Harding held the opposing team’s star to four points, which is her specialty.If Samohi is chosen for the state playoffs, which will begin Tursday, March 10, two injured players might be able to participate. Junior Lilly Feder (back injury) and freshman Sabrina Norton (wrist) are close to being cleared to play.This Saturday Canyon Springs will play in the division’s CIF championship game. Both the winner and loser are likely to receive invitations to the state playoffs.
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