It was everything it was supposed to be, a spectacle that accompanies the presence of a nationally prominent opponent coupled with a home team and crowd sensing victory.
The Santa Monica High gym was filled to capacity — standing room only — Saturday night when Mater Dei High came in and held off Santa Monica, 69-57.
“A high school girls game and students giving up their Saturday night to support us. It was one of the proudest moments of my coaching career.” said Samohi’s Marty Verdugo.
Leading up to the game Samohi was encouraged by the CIF granting eligibility to Bianka Baltizar, a transfer from Arizona and by Mater Dei suffering several injuries
But the visitors were equal to the task. Their inside strength made the difference.
Mater Dei’s big front line prevented penetration, forcing Samohi to frequently shoot from outside. Mater Dei shot 29 free throws to seven for Samohi.
Thea Lemberger scored 17 points, Moriah Faulk 14 and Lilly Feder 13 as Samohi came back from a six-point halftime deficit to lead by one in the third quarter
Afterward, Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan praised Santa Monica, saying it could be a factor in the upcoming CIF playoffs.
The deal included a return trip, meaning Samohi will play at Mater Dei, perhaps next season.
“Hearing Coach Kiernan praise us means a lot,” said Verdugo. “It seems we’re now considered a top ten team in the highest division, and that was my goal when I began here four years ago.”
Verdugo spent the entire week of preparation on Mater Dei even though Samohi had two Ocean League games scheduled too. The Vikings easily disposed of Hawthorne Wednesday, 64-40 and Morningside Friday, 51-30.
The Vikings’ next game is at Inglewood Wednesday night, with first place in the league at stake. Samohi won the first meeting.
Baltizar, whose transfer application was originally rejected by the CIF, granted her eligibility in time for the Hawthorne game, saying it had received new information.
Verdugo had Baltizar play briefly in the first two games but gave her a longer outing against Mater Dei.
Newcomers Faulk and Baltizar are both 5-foot-11 juniors. Their presence should help Samohi have a quality team again next season even though Lemberger will be at UCLA and Feder will be at UC San Diego.
It’s also likely sophomore center Sabrina Norton won’t be back. With her father, Ken Norton, joining Pete Carroll’s football staff with the Seahawks the family is expected to move to Seattle.
But this season Samohi will be making a strong bid in the CIF playoffs.
Mirror Sports Editorsports@smmirror.com