The Petaluma Junior High School boys’ basketball team recently finished a tough season on an impressive high note. After winning just one of their first six games, the boys won four of their last five and achieved a second-place finish in the Pomolito Classic Tournament in Ukiah,

The Bantams, coached by Jeff Erbst, have not had a great amount of success since the 2012-2013 seventh grade and 2013-2014 eighth grade teams went undefeated over a total of 32 games. After that, PJHS was moved into a bigger league, where the team has yet to boast a winning record.

This year, they entered the Pomolito Classic at 5-10, which earned them the fifth seed out of eight teams.

After a 90-minute drive to Ukiah, Petaluma faced host school Pomolito, which jumped out to an 11-0 start. The Bantams rallied behind Reece Lakritz’s 15 points, including 6-for-6 from the free throw line. and come back. “Our guys were shooting the lights out,” said Erbst, whose team was 7-for-9 from the field in the fourth quarter and secured a 47-40 victory.

The next morning brought the semifinals against River Oak Ukiah. “It was a team we didn’t think we were going to beat,” explained Erbst. Not only was River Oak the tallest team the Bantams had ever faced, but they were down big-man Julian Garrahan, who missed the matchup for a CYO game. Liam Gottschall and Will Krupp stepped up in the post on both offense and defense, and the Bantams pulled away from River Oak in what was a back-and-forth game to win, 36-27.

Both games were real team efforts, said Erbst. Every player scored in each game.

The finals were against an undefeated Healdsburg team that Erbst described as the best he’d ever seen. PJHS could not keep up, and fell, 55-27, to finish the tournament in second place.

In addition to the success of the team as a whole, individual Bantam standouts included Luke Ronshausen, who won the Hot Shot shooting competition against players from each of the eight teams, and Lakritz, who took second place in the 3-point shooting contest. Lakritz and teammate Will Krupp were named to the All-Tournament Team. Erbst recognized Matthew Baumsteiger for his great attitude and hard work. He was asked to accept the trophy on the team’s behalf.

This season has been defined by tremendous improvement. The main turning point was Christmas break, when players put in extra effort and extra work. When they came back in the second half of the season, the Bantams were more competitive, and defeated rival Kenilworth in the regular season.

“Our defense became less porous, we started getting more boards and just playing better basketball,” said Erbst.

One special experience the players shared was a PJHS program called Coaching Boys into Men, in which the basketball team discussed and learned responsibility as peer role models, in digital citizenship and in treatment of women.

“It created an openness and closeness among the boys,” said Erbst. That’s going to create a stronger freshman team when they go to high school.”