After playing a first half in which they appeared to be very much on Christmas break, the Santa Monica Vikings awoke from a brief winter respite on Tuesday afternoon to earn a 57-51 comeback win over Etiwanda High in the Nike Division semifinal of the MaxPreps Holiday Classic.
Etiwanda entered the fray charting as the division’s top team while Santa Monica was unseeded. Both squads came to the semis as winners of seven of their last eight games.
Down 17-9 after the opening period and trailing 26-22 at half, the Vikings finished the third quarter with a frenzy. Turning enhanced defensive pressure into offense, Santa Monica rode the hot hand of senior captain Jonah Mathews to a 9-0, quarter-ending run which took the score to 40-40 entering the final period of play.
After a 7-3 run to start the fourth, the Vikings never looked back.
“I think in the first half we didn’t play our game,” said Mathews. “We were playing to Etiwanda’s tempo; they like to slow the game down, play hard D and they’re a great defensive team.”
Mathews’ game-high 23 points featured five 3-pointers, including three triples in the third quarter.
“In that first half, I couldn’t buy a shot,” Mathews added. “But in the second half I was like, ‘This is our time.’ A semifinal game; that’s where big players come out and play.”
In the loss, Etiwanda was led by 20 points from junior guard Miles Oliver.
Mathews sees the Vikings’ run to the MaxPreps’ Nike Division final as the founding of a strong season for Santa Monica.
“Last year, we played in the tournament at Torrey Pines and went 0-4, so to come out to MaxPreps as a senior and to be 3-0 going into the championship is just great,” Mathews’ said. “This time last year, we had our heads down. This time this year, we’re up. It’s just a great tournament with so many great players. Winning the championship here would give us some extreme momentum going into our regular season. If we can win (against this level of competition) out here, we’ll go into our season feeling like nobody can stop us.”
Santa Monica’s advance to the Nike Division championship will pit the Vikings versus the winner of Mercer Island (Wash.) and Desert Pines (Las Vegas, Nev.), with the title game held on Wednesday at 5:50 p.m. at the Rancho Mirage High School main gym.