By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — Young yet confident, Petaluma overcame its toughest test to finish the Sonoma County League girls basketball season undefeated Thursday.
Going to overtime at home against Sonoma Valley, the league’s other elite squad, Petaluma held off another Dragons comeback to win the league title. Overcoming foul difficulty and turnovers, the Trojans found enough scoring across their deep lineup for a 60-58 win.
“We were really jumpy and not playing our game. We just had to settle down,” said center Allison Scranton, who led Petaluma with 15 points. “With each win, we wanted the next one that much more.”
Sonoma Valley was plenty hungry to win the contest from the tip off. Forging a tie after three periods and leading for stretches of the fourth quarter, the Dragons were determined on defense and game-leading scorer Ali Romano refused to let Petaluma pull away.
“We put our defense first. We fought to the end,” said Romano, who totaled 23 on the night. “We played well together and finished strong.”
The familiar foes could face one another again. Should they win SCL tournament semifinals Thursday, Petaluma and Sonoma Valley would meet in the finals at Santa Rosa Junior College on Feb. 16. The North Coast Section playoffs follow.
Thursday’s contest reminded the teams of the toughness needed to stay in games dictated by strong defense and rebounding.
“Our defense is pretty good. We’re working on passing and decision-making,” said Petaluma coach Doug Johnson. “They’re starting to feel at home now.”
Both squads are young, starting three seniors between them. Both have grown into disciplined units.
“We’ve been successful at combining athletic post play with solid guard play and 3-point shooting,” said Sonoma Valley coach Sil Coccia.
While the Trojans were favorites to win Thursday, the Dragons were not the same team that fell to Petaluma at home by 14 points three weeks ago.
Petaluma didn’t help its cause in the first half. Committing fouls that led to Sonoma Valley free throws and failing to finish second- and third-chance scoring opportunities, the Trojans clung to a three-point lead after two periods.
The hot hand of Sophie Bihn kept Petaluma ahead the first half, as the reserve hit four 3-pointers for her dozen points in the game.
“Everyone can shoot on our team. We work so well together because we’ve learned our strengths,” Scranton said.
The super sub off Sonoma Valley’s bench is Mackenzie Albrecht, a tall yet quick post player averaging a double-double in points and rebounds.
The sophomore paired with senior point guard Romano to keep the Dragons close.
“Our young players are really good. We’re passing better and limiting turnovers,” Romano said.
Following a choppy, low-scoring third period, the teams opened the final period with a scoring flurry.
The back-and-forth play featured better spacing and ball movement offensively. After the Dragons regained the lead and went up by four points at two junctures, the Trojans used a 6-0 run to take back the advantage. A pair of Romano free throws knotted the contest at 50 with two minutes left.
Neither team would score again in regulation. The defenses forced turnovers and double teamed open shooters.
A big difference in overtime was Petaluma’s scoring depth. Five players hit shots, none bigger than a pair of Scranton free throws to cap the Trojans’ title-winning night.
“I knew how much we needed it and wanted the game,” she said after the final buzzer.
“We were waiting for that moment since the beginning of the game.”