All-Empire Small School Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Sonoma Academy’s Savannah Stoughton

Sonoma Academy's Savannah Stoughton goes to the basket as Convent of Sacred Heart's Jackie Wong defends during the game held at Sonoma Academy, Wednesday, February 25, 2015.   (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

Sonoma Academy’s Savannah Stoughton goes to the basket as Convent of Sacred Heart’s Jackie Wong defends during the game held at Sonoma Academy, Wednesday, February 25, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“I’ve always been a solid defensive player, but offensively, I didn’t really start scoring points until my sophomore year of high school,” Savannah Stoughton said. “From third grade through freshman year, I’d drive down the lane and chuck the ball off the backboard, and it would bounce back to the free throw line.”

Girls who had to guard Stoughton last season may be rereading that first paragraph right now, trying to reconcile the image of the clumsy girl ricocheting layups off the glass with the Sonoma Academy senior who earned our All-Empire Small School Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors.

Indeed, Stoughton has come a long way in the past two years.

“For me, if you take Savannah off our team, I could see us finishing in third or fourth place,” Sonoma Academy coach Kevin Christensen said.

Instead, the Coyotes won the NCL II championship with a 13-1 record and finished 17-4 overall. And they did it largely on the strength of Stoughton’s scoring. She averaged about 21 points over the course of the season, and about 18 in league, saving some of her biggest performances for the most crucial moments.

“There were games when she scored 55 or 60 percent of our points,” Christensen said. “There were definitely certain games where if she’s not there, we might have lost. For instance, in the first game against St. Vincent she scored 32. The next game against Upper Lake at home, she scored 25. She was over 20 in league five times, and all against top opponents.”

Stoughton made a big leap as a scorer between her sophomore and junior seasons, she said. Having learned under another Redwood Empire Player of the Year, Kate Bayes, and then teammates such as Kiana Herold, Tori Gimpel and Willow Gallagher, she felt mentally and technically ready to take on a more assertive role.

Playing a wing position, Stoughton got the bulk of her points on drives to the basket. Not that she necessarily blew by opponents.

“My dad calls it my slow drive, because I don’t drive quickly, but I drive strongly to the basket,” Stoughton said. “A lot of times if I don’t make the layup, I pick up a foul. And I worked hard on my free throw shooting.”

Of course, Stoughton is more than just an offensive threat.

“We would press, full-court and half-court, and she’d play on the top of that,” Christensen said. “She averaged over five steals a game, and a lot of them led to direct baskets.”

Stoughton has been involved in sports for most of her life, but basketball is not her first love. That would be soccer, which she has played longer, and usually at a higher level. In fact, when Stoughton heads east to High Point University in North Carolina this fall, she will be playing soccer and walking away from the basketball court.

“Of course my mom, she coaches basketball, says, ‘You should try to play at High Point,’ ” Stoughton observed.

But Stoughton has no plans to do that. She is content to let the 2014-15 season — the one in which she led her team to a league title and was deemed the best small-school player in the region — be her last.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @skinny_post.