By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — Doug Johnson, in his 36th year leading the Petaluma girls program, said he usually knows after a couple of preseason practices how his team will fare during the season.
This current cast of players, however, has fooled the coach big time.
Johnson’s girls went through the SCL undefeated and Thursday night upended Healdsburg, 44-30, in an opening-round game of the league tournament.
“I didn’t think this group would be this good this quickly,” Johnson said with a smile. “I thought I was a year and probably two away from having a really good group. This team has improved dramatically since preseason. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”
The Trojans started three sophomores and a junior Thursday.
In Saturday’s tourney final at Santa Rosa JC, Petaluma will face No. 3 seed Analy. The Tigers went on the road and defeated Sonoma Valley, 54-48, in the other opening-round game.
During the regular season, the Trojans beat the Tigers, 58-39, and 58-44.
Against Healdsburg, sophomores Joelle Krist and Allison Scranton led the way. Krist, a 5-foot-7 forward, scored 14 and Scranton, a 6-foot center, added 10.
Taking advantage of 15 turnovers in the first half by the Greyhounds, Petaluma grabbed a 27-15 lead at intermission.
Healdsburg cut the margin to 33-23 after three quarters but could get no closer.
“We accomplished 75 percent of what we set out to do,” Johnson said. “We shot better than Healdsburg and made adjustments on defense that caused a number of turnovers.
“We still have plenty of room to improve, especially on defense. To their credit, the girls have played hard all season.”
Krist believes chemistry has allowed this team to come together quicker than expected.
“Everyone has a role and everyone knows their job,” she said. “We know what to expect from our teammates. It’s like we’ve been playing together for a long time.”
The Greyhounds shot 19 percent (9-of-49) from the field while Petaluma was 18-of-53 for 34 percent.
Healdsburg is also a young team. The only senior on the squad is HelenAnn Haun.
“This season we’ve taken our lumps in some games,” co-head coach Jim Gonella said. “With a young group that figures to happen.
“We’ve been plagued by turnovers and that hurt us again in this game. We were encouraged the way they came back in the third quarter and cut that big lead down to 10.
“They’re getting valuable experience and will be much better next season.”
Haun and Ivanna Olivarez led the Greyhounds in scoring with six points each.
The Greyhounds’ record is 15-12 while the Trojans are 23-4 and have won seven straight.
After winning league, Petaluma is guaranteed a spot in the North Coast Section Tournament. Healdsburg might also make the field. The former will compete in Div. 3 and the latter in Div. 4.