Benefield: SCL girls basketball title motivates Petaluma for bigger goals

Analy’s Aleah Armstrong (33) attempts a shot while Petaluma’s Courtney Temple (21) defends during the second half of a girls varsity basketball game between Analy and Petaluma high schools in Petaluma, California on Friday, January 12, 2018. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)


The Petaluma High Trojans didn’t exactly roar out of the gate in the Sonoma County League girls’ basketball race. But they are making plenty of noise now.

The Trojans, who finished 5-7 in league last season and missed SCL playoffs by way of getting the bummer end of a break-the-tie straw draw, were just 8-5 heading into their league opener against Healdsburg back on Jan. 3.

They won that game 40-36 in overtime, perhaps exacting a bit of revenge against the ’Hounds who last year knocked them into the tie that eventually kept them from playing in the league postseason tournament.

Coach Jon Ratshin, in his second year at the helm for Petaluma, said his team escaped an early league hole that night — and they knew it.

“We escaped,” he said. “We got out of there with a win and felt fortunate to do so.”

The team regained some confidence with big wins against Elsie Allen and El Molino before hosting rival Analy on Jan. 12. And that game didn’t start out well. The Trojans were down 30-19 at the half.

“We went into the locker room and basically told them that we were turning the ball over. We were basically throwing the ball to them and they are making layups,” Ratshin said. “It’s hard to win that way.”

But the Trojans buckled down, protected the ball and ground their way back to a 60-52 win at home. They also gained heaps of confidence that night. Up until that point, it was perhaps unclear what the Trojans were made of.

“I really think that after we beat Analy the first time, then for sure we knew,” said senior Kelsey Martin.

They have since beaten defending champ Sonoma Valley on the road, squeaked out a 43-42 nail biter against Piner and made it 2-0 against Analy this season to run up a 10-0 league record heading into tonight’s home contest against Sonoma Valley. Even with Sonoma Valley and Piner still on the schedule, the Trojans’ win against Analy on Saturday night clinched the Sonoma County League title for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

It marks the last time an SCL banner in girls basketball will be bestowed on any team. Next season, Petaluma will join Sonoma Valley, Casa Grande, American Canyon, Justin-Siena, Napa and Vintage in a new league.

“I think it really tops us off and sends us into the new division with more confidence,” Martin said.

The Trojans are led by junior Jade Krist’s 9.1 points per game, followed by sophomore Sheriene Arikat’s 9.0 off the bench. Krist is an all-around force for the Trojans, leading the team in rebounds per game (6.9), steals (2.2) and is second in assists per game behind senior Nichole Costa’s 2.3.

“Nichole Costa has been there for us defensively,” Ratshin said. “She scored more last year but has been better as far as getting teammates involved.”

Costa said the team is perhaps a better unit this year than last. And they are balanced offensively.

“We definitely have a big post presence,” Costa said. “When I see Jade open in the middle I try to get her the ball. In the second half they kind of try to take that away and I can hit Kaileigh Pate on the outside.”

Pate, a junior, is averaging six points per game leads the team in 3-point shooting.

The Trojans are allowing just shy of 34 points per game while scoring almost 49 points. The Trojans held Sonoma Valley to 30 points in their first outing on Jan. 17. The Dragons are averaging 45 points per game.

“I think one of our big strengths is defense and kind of shutting out other teams,” said senior guard Courtney Temple.

The Trojans held Healdsburg’s sharpshooter Hannah Webb scoreless in their second outing.

But now the key is focus. Yes, the league title is in the bag, but dropping either one of the next two games would trip up a Trojans crew that is looking forward to an invitation to the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs. The Trojans dropped early games against Division 2 foes Casa Grande and Rancho Cotate, which will hurt their seed in the postseason.

But Costa said that is not on her mind now. Keeping their 11-game win streak alive is very much on their mind.

“We don’t want to lose that undefeated title now, so we just need to stay focused,” she said. “Just run our plays and run what we know how to do.”

Sonoma Valley, the defending league champion sitting in second place with a 8-3 record, can’t dethrone the Trojans but will likely do everything they can to put a blemish on their rivals’ record.

The Trojans need this test because Division 2 playoffs start Feb. 20 and they will surely go from big dog to underdog.

“I wouldn’t count us out,” Temple said. “We might be the underdogs but I wouldn’t count us out.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield”