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A hoops crown for T-Girls

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The Petaluma High School girls basketball team mixed a dash of senior leadership with a cup of good health, added a pinch of youthful enthusiasm and mixed all with hard work to cook up a championship season.

The T-Girls’ Sonoma County League championship season was their first since 2013, and their undefeated (12-0) SCL record (21-5 overall) exceeded even their own expectations.

“When I was a freshman I never would have thought we could have come this far,” said Nichole Costa, one of just three seniors on the champions’ roster.

“The championship means a lot,” said junior Jaden Krist, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. “It took a lot of work to get here.”

Sophomore Sherlene Arikat, who started the season just hopeful of making the varsity team and ended up only a couple of points behind Krist in scoring, is still having a tough time grasping the success of her first varsity season.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “It (a championship season) has always been my dream. I can’t believe we won the championship.”

The championship didn’t just happen.

“The girls worked hard,” said Petaluma coach John Ratshin, in just his second year as T-Girl coach. “We learned from our mistakes so we didn’t keep making them again and again.”

It also helped that many of the players were returning from last season.

“We were able to pretty much hit it rolling this year,” the coach observed. “We were playing better even in some of our early losses.”

Although the T-Girls came out of league unscathed, it wasn’t easy. There was an overtime game at Healdsburg where they won, 40-36; a tough game against Analy the first time around the league schedule that they pulled out, 60-52; a game at home against Piner they almost blew before holding on for a 43-42 decision, and the title-clinching game at home against Analy where they prevailed, 47-43.

Although they have a sparkling 21-5 overall record, all five losses came early, and they were not the overall SCL title favorite with an 8-5 mark going into league play.

One of the favorites was Healdsburg, and the T-Girls made a statement in their first league contest, beating Healdsburg, 40-36, in the overtime game.

That set the tone for a scrappy league season. Whether they played well, or not-so-well, the Petalumans always found a way to win.

A key to their success was a smothering defense that allowed them to stay close even when shots weren’t dropping.

“There is nothing magical about our defense. It is a matter of understanding what we’re looking for, trusting our teammates and getting after it,” the coach said.

A trademark of Ratshin’s squads has been total team involvement. It is a rare Petaluma game that does not involve participation of all 12 players on the roster.

“I try to get every player in the game, but when it gets close, I want my key players in the game,” he said.

Those key players keep changing.

“We had a bunch of players do a lot of good things,” Ratshin explains.

Most of the Petaluma offense goes through junior center Krist, a 5-foot, 11-inch three-sport athlete. Krist averages nine points and seven rebounds a game, and she could easily score more but prefers to kick the ball back out from her post position to her teammates.

Another who sacrificed her own numbers to benefit the team is senior Costa, who often passed up her own scoring opportunities to set up her teammates.

“We were all definitely willing to share the ball,” she said. “We were willing to feed the ball to the hot shooter.”

Arikat wasn’t even sure she would make the varsity at the start of the season, even after being the Most Valuable Player on the junior varsity the year before.

Although she doesn’t normally start, she ranks right up with Krist as the team’s scoring leader. She prefers to play the post, but she is skillful enough as a ball handler to also play in the backfield.

Senior Kelsey Martin has been a consistent player for the T-Girls all season with the ability to be one of those hot-handed shooters Costa was talking about. She went off for 23 points in the title-clinching win over Analy.

Another player who came through in big situations was Kaileigh Pate, who averaged nearly six points a game and had 12 in the big win over Analy.

One of the many good things about the T-Girls is that most will be back next season.

Costa, Courtney Temple and Martin are the only seniors on the team.

Among those who contributed to this year’s championship and who will be anxious for a repeat are Krist, Martin, ball-handling sophomore guard Paris Buchanan, clutch junior basket maker Angelina Scaccalosi, sophomore Bella Weinberg, junior Lilly Catarozoli, sophomore Lilah Bacon and junior Kassidy Bacon.