MIDDLETOWN >> The start wasn’t very good, but once the Middletown girls basketball team settled down, it was no contest.
The Blue Dragons broke from a four-point lead midway through the second quarter to close the half with a 19-to-zip run and went on to beat Manchester 85-52 in the opening round of the Class LL state tournament at the LaBella-Sullivan Gymnasium Tuesday evening.
Middletown will play Newtown, a 44-38 winner over Wethersfield, in the second round Friday, 7 p.m. at Middletown High School.
Middletown, the No. 4 seed, led 46-23 at the half and opened up the second half with a 28-2 run to lead 74-26 late in the third quarter.
“People look at the rankings and tend to forget we haven’t had much success in the postseason,” Middletown coach Rob Smernoff said. “This group had never won a state tournament game so it was understandable we would have some jitters.
“But once we settled down, I thought we took care of the basketball very well and I thought we did a nice job attacking the paint, which is what we wanted to do.”
Manchester could do little to stop the Dragons’ inside game. Brielle Wilborn had 19 and Dominique Highsmith had 17, all from inside.
“We are small,” Manchester coach Leanne Crockett said. “We had a plan to try and contain Wilborn, but we are just too small. I have hard-working kids, but our lack of size has hurt us all season.
“We were in the game down 27-23, but then they went on that run and we couldn’t come back.”
Manchester (9-13), won a play-in game, 77-73, over No. 29 ranked New Britain, thus it claimed the No. 29 spot against Middletown.
In addition to Wilborn and Highsmith, three other players scored in double figures as Silvana Barcomb had 16, Jen Barbour had 15 and Amanda Fudge had 12.
“Not only did we think that Wilborn and Highsmith gave us a height advantage that we could exploit, but we thought we’d be able to have our guards score from inside and they did,” Smernoff said. “Our plan was to attack the basket as we thought they weren’t very good at defending the paint.”
Smernoff also said that another part of the game plan that went well was his team’s defense.
“Their No. 22 [Chyanne Walker] has scored over 20 points many times this season,” Smernoff said. “We wanted to control her and I thought Barbour and [Mackenzie] Dunn did a very nice job on her.”
Walker finished with eight points.
Manchester hung through the first quarter, although Middletown broke from an 8-8 tie to lead 23-16 after one. The Indians chipped away at the lead and two Walker free throws made the score 27-23 with five minutes to go in the half.
But that’s when the Dragons went on that 19-0 run that blew the game open. Middletown went on to outscore Manchester 33-13 in the third and Smernoff sent in the subs for much of the fourth.
T’aejah Sturges had 13, Katelyn Vazquez had 11 and Maddison Glasgow had 10 for Manchester.
Middletown 85, Manchester 52
Manchester 16 7 13 16 — 52
Middletown 23 23 33 6 — 85
T’aejah Sturges 5 0 13, JanKeya Butler 1 0 2, Chyanne Walker 2 2 8, Maddison Glasgow 3 2 10, Katelyn Vazquez 4 3 11, Zamiah Stewart 1 2 4, Ianez Rose 2 0 4. Totals 19 7 52.
Amanda Fudge 4 2 12, Dominique Highsmith 7 3 17, Logan Frame 1 0 2, Jenny Barbour 7 0 15, Zaryah Carr 1 0 2, Mackenzie Dunn 1 0 2, Silvana Barcomb 5 2 16, Brielle Wilborn 8 3 19. Totals: 36 8 85.
3-point goals: Sturges 3, Glasgow 2, Fudge 2, Barbour, Barcomb 4.
Records: Manchester 9-13, Middletown 22-3.