STOCKTON – A popular website has at least 15 synonyms for the word patience, and St. Mary’s veteran girls’ basketball coach Tom Gonsalves admonishes his team’s fans to learn every one of them as the perennial powerhouse basketball program begins a new year.

After losing standout players from last season’s section championship team due to graduation, the Rams have one of the youngest starting lineups in Gonsalves’ two decades of coaching. Nonetheless, the Rams won their season opener Tuesday night at Morelli Gym with a 79-45 defeat of Sacramento-Bradshaw Christian.

The Rams (1-0) started two freshmen to support two Division I-bound seniors, and the growing pains were evident on the offensive end more than with their defense. St. Mary’s committed 23 turnovers, made just one of its first 10 3-point attempts and went more than four minutes in the first half without scoring a point.

“It’s a whole different team,” said Gonsalves, whose team finished 5-for-24 from 3-point range. “We’re so, so young. We’re going to be fine, but everybody’s got to have patience. Every day is a baby step to get better.”

The Rams, which finished 27-3 last season, are the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champions. Their season ended in the semifinals of the state tournament’s Open Division. But it’s a much different roster for a new season.

Freshman Tai Sherman paced the Rams with 20 points while teammates Jada Moss and Monique Vasquez had 17 and 13 points, respectively. Gonsalves said he was curious how his team, which includes 6-foot 5-inch freshman center Ashley Lewis, would fare against a team that lost in last year’s CIF State Division IV semifinals.

The Rams press defense kept St. Mary’s in the game by holding the Pride (1-4) to just three points in the first quarter. But as the mistakes piled up, the Rams and the Pride were tied 24-24 at halftime.

In the second half, the Rams finally ended a 15-0 run by the Pride that had given Bradshaw Christian a 28-24 lead. St. Mary’s responded with a 15-0 run of its own that produced a 48-34 advantage through the third quarters. The Rams maintained that double-digit lead until the final buzzer.

Still, Gonsalves recognizes the task ahead of him.

“It’s really fun to coach a lot of new girls who are coachable and who want to learn,” said Gonsalves. “I think that once we get healthy, we’ll be pretty darn good. But the injuries have really set us back.”

That includes the recent injury in practice to senior Nicole Young, the Princeton-bound point guard whose knee injury could put her out of action until at least January – or the entire season. On the bright side, junior Amaya Oliver may return in January after spending a year sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

St. Mary’s recovered in the fourth quarter to outscore the Pride 31-11, largely due to Bradshaw Christian playing with four players for the remaining 4 minutes, 25 seconds. Only five players were available for the Pride, and one fouled out.

The Rams shot 49 percent from the field compared to 35 percent by the Pride, who was led by Anaya Mejia’s 16 points.