Before the opening game of the Sonoma County League girls playoff tournament, Petaluma coach Doug Johnson smiled when he said, "The best thing that could happen tonight is that we win an ugly game. It would give us something to work on if we move on."
It happened just that way.
The T-Girls never appeared comfortable throughout the entire win-or-go-home game against host Sonoma Valley on Wednesday, but they had just enough in the tank to eke out a 36-33 win to advance to the championship game in Sebastopol Friday against regular-season titlist Analy.
Petaluma never led by more than six points (13-7), and that came in the first period. Most of the remaining parts of the game were disjointed with enough turnovers on both sides to give each team an opportunity to win.
Sonoma Valley had plenty of chances, including a loose-ball recovery in the final seconds with Petaluma grimly holding on to a 34-33 advantage. The Lady Dragons threw the ball away on the baseline and were forced to foul reliable shot maker Joelle Krist, who converted both free throws to give the T-Girls a little breathing room.
After a second timeout by Dragon coach Sil Coccia, the Sonoma club threw to the mid-court line where a second pass went astray and time ran out.
Krist had five of her game total of seven points in the crucial fourth period, but nailed the game's biggest basket on the front end of a three-point play in the last minutes to give Petaluma its final cushion.
With the exception of a couple of Sonoma shots from around the key, the T-Girls led most of the way. Sophomore Olivia Baldwin gave Petaluma a huge shot in the arm by connecting on five shots to help hold off Sonoma at halftime when the score was 21-20. All of Baldwin's shots were mid range, but she put them up without hesitation and they all rattled home.
Petaluma held on for most of the second half, but it was a grind. Both Johnson and Coccia maximized their time out opportunities but neither team settled in.
Sonoma Valley had only two field goals in the second half, but one of them was a 3-pointer by junior guard Alexa Hall. The Lady Dragons converted 8 of 14 free throw opportunities to stay close.