For two and a half quarters, everything was going according to plan for the girls basketball team on Thursday night. The Vikings were hanging tough with heavily favored Mater Dei, executing coach Marty Verdugo's plan to perfection by slowing the tempo and using the entire shot clock every possession.
As the game reached its latter stages, though, Mater Dei's skill and depth took over, and the Monarchs showed why ESPN has them ranked #1 in the nation, pulling away for a 57-41 victory in a Southern California Regional quarterfinal.
The loss brought an end to the five-year tenure of Verdugo, after a successful run in which Santa Monica went 118-38, advanced to at least the semifinals of the Southern Section playoffs every season. They won the Division 1A title last winter.
"Sometimes it's a situation where the other team is just a little bit better than you," Verdugo said as he hugged and said goodbye to Samohi fans and alumni moments after Thursday's defeat.
Mater Dei Santa Monica twice earlier in the season—including a 57-37 triumph in the semifinals of the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs on Mar. 1. Verdugo had a simple strategy heading into the teams' third meeting: Control the pace of the game and stay close to the top-seeded Monarchs each quarter.
"This is what we wanted, this is where we wanted to be," Verdugo told his team after the first quarter, with the Vikings trailing only 10-8. Mater Dei, however, outscored Santa Monica 12-4 in the second quarter to push its lead to double digits at halftime.
Briana Harris made a three-pointer and a free throw to cut Mater Dei's lead to 30-21 at the four-minute mark of the third quarter but the top-seeded Monarchs (31-1) responded with a 12-1 run.
Harris scored 14 points before fouling out with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter and Mater Dei leading 45-27. UCLA-bound Moriah Faulk led the Vikings (23-10) with 20 points, including three three-pointers. Santa Monica won the fourth quarter, 19-15, but it was not enough for the Vikings to advance to Saturday's semifinals.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who has signed with UConn, led the Monarchs with 16 points while USC-signee Alexyz Vaioletama and Arizona State-bound Karina "Kiki" Alofaituli each added 11 for Mater Dei. The team won its 23rd straight since its lone defeat to Long Beach Poly on Dec. 21.
Coaching right to the final buzzer, Verdugo implored his squad to "keep playing hard." The Vikings did just that, holding Mater Dei 15 points below its season scoring average.