Jenaya Salafia is guarded by Rocky Hill's Bella Montalvo as Middletown's #24 Olivia Vaughters looks on during the Blue Dragons 55-22 win last Tuesday night
Middletown girls’ basketball has been playing shorthanded for most of the season, yet it didn’t slow them down last Tuesday night when they defeated Rocky Hill 55-22 at MHS.
Sophomores Tyah Pettaway and Shadae Bushay combined for 35 points as the Blue Dragons used an up-tempo approach to start fast and finish strong, winning their fifth game of the season.
Head coach Rob Smernoff has been impressed with the rapid development of Pettaway and Bushay, “They’ve been waiting for it and they’ve been ready for it. They’re two kids who play basketball all the time and they want the challenge.”
Bushay got things started with a three pointer from the top of the circle, giving the Blue Dragons the lead for good at 3-1. She scored 11 of her 17 points over the first eight minutes as Middletown raced out to a 20-5 lead after the first quarter.
Pettaway finished with a game-high 18, often leading fast breaks and showcasing her ability to finish at the rim.
The tandem has been thrust into the spotlight after Kya Mayo, last year’s leading scorer, and Ayanna McCalla, this year’s leading scorer, both sustained injuries.
There’s a noticeable chemistry of the floor between the breakout sophomore stars.
“A lot of kids when someone gets hurt like to stay in the background, but both of them were happy to take over,” added Smernoff, “They played in middle school together, they played some on varsity last year together, and this year they obviously play all the time together.”
Because of the injuries, Smernoff started four sophomores and a junior against Rocky Hill. The youthful lineup played aggressive on the defensive end, creating easy transition buckets on the other end.
The normally fast-paced Blue Dragons have increased the tempo even more in recent games.
“With the roster we had today we had to adjust to play more of that style,” added Smernoff, “We’re really young and with the personnel we had it was just about making do and taking advantages of their strengths. A lot of these kids playing for us thought they’d be coming in as subs but now they’re starting and embracing it. We didn’t have one senior play tonight.”
Aysia Henderson added 8, while Jenaya Salafia and freshman Jada Bryant each chipped in four.
With the loss, Rocky Hill fell to 1-9.
Head coach Allyson Smith was disappointed with her team’s effort but sees potential, “Today is not an indication of our year at large. We struggled to get consistent play for 32 minutes, but we’ve played well at times. Defensive mindset is above all things and we struggle with that continuity sometimes. We’re undersized, we don’t necessarily know how to rebound as well as we need to.”
After a sluggish first quarter, Smith’s Terriers fair much better in the second frame, outscoring the home team 10-9. Senior Aleksa Peterson scored four and the team’s defense held their own against Middletown’s relentless offensive attack.
Things broke down after the break as the Terriers were only able to manage seven total points over the final 16 minutes.
“We have seniors, like Corrin [Stabile] and Aleksa, that have been through it for four years. They know what is asked of them on a night by night basis. We have to get everyone else to contribute but today was just a complete lack of confidence. The energy was not there, and we just didn’t show up the way we could and should be showing up.”
Smith will lean on her seniors the rest of the way, while trying to find the right nucleus of players to help turn the season around.
Peterson, Stabile, Olivia Augeri, along with starting juniors Peggy Minga and Jenna Chipkin, and reserves Bella Montalvo, Hanna Conneely, and freshman Christina DeNovellis will all play important roles down the stretch.
“I’m incredibly hopeful and optimistic and I walked into this game today fully confident that we could compete but it’s just a matter of playing better. We’ve got the mentality, it’s just an uphill battle right now.”
Last Friday, the Terriers suffered loss #10 to New Britain. The team has five of their final seven games at home, starting with Glastonbury this Friday (1/31) at 6:45 p.m.
Middletown closed the week with a 56-46 loss to Berlin, but they remain in the tournament hunt. They’ll play five of their final six regular season game at home, starting this Thursday (1/30) against RHAM at 5:15 p.m.
7/7/2021 06:40:27 am
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin