The state tournaments in girls’ basketball tipped off last week, offering the local teams a chance to compete for a trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena later this month.
Middletown, who entered the Class LL tourney as the #4-seed, rode their high-octane offense and cruised to a first round 85-52 victory over Manchester at MHS last Tuesday night.
Blue Dragon’s leading scorer and rebounder Brielle Wilborn scored 19 points, hauled down 15 rebounds, and blocked seven shots before resting the final quarter of the game.
The 6’3” senior was instrumental on both ends of the court during a mammoth 47-3 scoring run between the second and third quarter.
“I feel we’re more of a second half team. Sometimes we come out in the first half and we’re a little shy, but once it’s the second half we’re ready to go,” Wilborn said, “It’s just about making our shots and playing hard.”
The visiting Indians traveled to Middletown as heavy underdogs, but went toe-to-toe with the Blue Dragons for the ten minutes and trailed only 27-23 early in the second quarter.
Wilborn and junior point guard Amanda Fudge took charge from that point on, helping the Blue Dragon’s score the final 19 points of the half.
“We always start off slow and that’s something that we’ve been working on in practice. We’ve been working on coming out with intensity from that start,” said Fudge, who ended the night with a dozen points, including the final seven of the first half.
Fudge and her backcourt mates continued to thrive in the third quarter, leaking out for easy transition buckets following blocks and rebounds from Wilborn on the defensive end.
“It’s always something that we work on,” Fudge said about the hurried pace, “It’s about speed and height and we have both, so we try and use it to our advantage.”
“It wasn’t really a strategy. We were seeing what worked throughout the game and where our strong points were,” added Wilborn, who put up her season averages despite Manchester attempting to front her defensively and often sending double teams at her, “If they’re fronting me, I’ll post up behind them and I make sure they’re above the box so I have a better chance at making my shot. Or I’ll just move around to get them tired and once they get tired I post up in front of them.”
Dominque Highsmith scored 17 points, including 13 in the pivotal second and third quarters, and added 11 rebounds.
Jennifer Barbour added 15, with 11 coming in the third quarter, and junior Silvana Barcomb contributed 16 points off the bench.
The 24-minute offensive onslaught provided the Blue Dragons a commanding 79-36 after three quarters and head coach Rob Smernoff decided to rest his starters for the final eight minutes.
The blowout victory was a welcomed site for Smernoff and his Blue Dragons, who entered the tournament following a 71-43 loss to Enfield in the CCC finals.
They were unable to capture a conference title, but the team won 18 of 20 regular season games and they were only one of four teams in Class LL with two or fewer losses.
A season ago they finished 12-8 in the regular season and were knocked out in the first round of the tourney. Wilborn and Fudge were major contributors during last season’s run, but they have both have taken their games to a new level this season.
Wilborn has seen Fudge take a big leap from her sophomore season until now, “She’s gotten better with her play in general and she’s a team player, so it helps us out a lot.”
Fudge is prospering as the team’s emotional leader and stated that she feels more comfortable on the court this season, “I know my job is to help get my teammates open and create opportunities. Knowing that I can rely on them makes it much easier for me.”
The duo agrees that the team needs to keep doing the little things, like boxing out, communicating, and rotating on defense to stay alive in the tourney.
Those little things came up big in the second round of the tourney, when Middletown survived with a 69-58 overtime-victory over Newtown on Friday.
Wilborn scored 23 points and the team outscored the visiting Nighthawks 13-2 in the extra session, after blowing a six-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Their next challenge is a home date against Mercy (19-3) this Thurs, Mar 9. MHS should be a packed house for the quarterfinals clash, which tips at 6:30 p.m.
(Dominique Highsmith scored 17 points and hauled down 11 rebounds in Middletown's victory)
The defending Class M champion Cromwell Panthers defeated Granby 49-32 in the first round, but we upset by Bacon Academy 47-44 in the second round, ending their title defense.
Geanna Williams scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the opening-round victory. Theresa Quinn added 15 points and five steals, leading a suffocating defense which limiting the visiting Bears to a meager three points in the second quarter.
Williams and Quinn, along with versatile guard Nikki Bitinaitis and solid frontcourt contributor Ashley DellaRatta, will be four graduating seniors not returning to the court for Cromwell next season.
Like Cromwell, Rocky Hill won their Class M first-round game, upsetting Kaynor Tech 59-47 on the road. Nikki Lukens pumped in 22 points and Grace Fisher and Aleksa Peterson each added ten.
The young Terriers also fell in the second round, losing to #2-seeded Career 48-38. In defeat, Lukens had a terrific all-round game with 11 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, and three steals.
Rocky Hill played the entire season without a senior, meaning they will return their entire roster next season.
Wethersfield and Newington each suffered losses in the opening-round of the Class LL tourney. The Eagles fell to Newtown 44-38 and the Indians were ousted by E.O. Smith 62-32.
Wethersfield will have eight seniors graduate, but will have their top two scorers in Nicole Gwynn and Cheyenne Mone-Smith returning to the court next winter.
Newington will lose leading scorer Abrial Murray and Ariel Keen, but will have a talented, young nucleus coming back.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin