MIDDLETOWN >> There’s a noticeable absence of girls basketball banners hanging from the walls inside Middletown High’s Labella-Sullivan Gymnasium.
“And there’s been some terrific girls basketball teams here,” said Blue Dragons coach Rob Smernoff, now in his sixth season. “But we’ve always been second and third.”
Well, it seems Smernoff’s 2013-2014 edition may have a remedy for the program’s championship drought: a trio of quick senior guards (Rajeen Mayo, Mikaela Coady and Marissa Aldieri); a sharp-shootiing senior forward (Tamyia King); and a tall, freshman center (Brielle Wilborn) who’s improving with each game.
All five players helped the Blue Dragons run away from Platt (Meriden), 57-27, Thursday night in a Central Connecticut Conference South Division matchup.
“It was our fifth game in eight days,” Smernoff added. “We played last night as well (a 67-57 loss against Hall) and I think it showed early on. But the middle of the second quarter and into the third quarter, that’s the team we’re capable of being.”
Smernoff was referring to his club’s 18-0 spurt that turned a relatively close game into a 24-point Blue Dragons lead with 3 minutes and 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
King started the run with eight straight points, including a pair of 3-point bombs early in the third quarter. Mayo, whose 10 first quarter points staked the Blue Dragons to an early 16-9 lead, set up a Wilborn bucket with a nifty drive and dish. Mayo extended the run with layup off the glass. A Coady putback off a missed free throw and a Wilborn free throw gave Middletown a 42-18 advantage.
The Blue Dragons trapping press and zone defense held the Panthers without a point for almost nine minutes before Platt senior Brianna Sheftel made a short baseline jumper.
Sheftel also added a 3-pointer late in the third but it was too late for the Panthers, who trailed 43-23 after three quarters.
“We just couldn’t buy a basket and we couldn’t get our offense going,” said Platt coach Tina Gonyea. “In the first half I thought we played with them. I thought it was going to be a much more competitive game.”
Sheftel had eight points and three rebounds, senior Jalyra Robbins had six points and three rebounds, and sophomore LynJeanette Gordis had four points and five rebounds for Platt (4-6, 2-4 CCC South).
Mayo finished with a game-high 14 points, three steals and two assists. King had nine points, Coady had four points, six rebounds and two assists, while Aldieri collected four points and four rebounds.
“(Middletown’s) very good,” added Gonyea. “They’re quick and they finally have size this year. I’m used to playing Rob the same size as us but he’s fortunate enough to get some tall players this year and sometimes that’s the difference.”
And it’s Wilborn who is emerging as a difference maker for the Blue Dragons.
“A lot of people don’t realize even two years ago in the seventh grade she was barely getting any playing time on the middle school team and now she’s turned herself into a legitimate varsity player,” said Smernoff. “Brielle just keeps working hard and gets better every day.”
Wilborn had nine points, nine rebounds and one blocked shot against the Panthers as the Blue Dragons (7-4) captured their fifth win in six tries.
More importantly, Middletown stayed ahead of Bristol Eastern, Bristol Central and Plainville in the CCC South with a perfect 6-0 mark.
“We’ve beaten all three of those teams at home,” Smernoff said. “So we still have to go to those gyms.”
The Blue Dragons elusive girls basketball banner is in sight.
“It would be nice,” Smernoff added. “It’s really been a goal of ours. We’re trying to put a banner up and so far we’re doing a good job. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”