NEW HAVEN >> One is a Hall of Fame coach who is beginning his 40th season at the helm, the other is a Hall of Fame player whose high school and college basketball resume has no equal for a schoolgirl in this state. Heck, she was a Parade All-American and a Final Four MVP.
Wednesday at New Haven’s Truman School – the home-away-from-home for Hyde Leadership – Portland’s Nick Chaconis and Hyde’s Tracy Claxton guide their young teams through day one of the 2013-2014 girls basketball season. And on this night the Howling Wolves proved to be a tough match-up for the Highlanders.
Senior forward Adasia Beard poured in a career-high 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while senior guard Trayneice Mims added 13 points, 10 rebounds and five steals as Hyde rolled past Portland, 50-34, in a Shoreline Conference battle Wednesday night.
The ‘Wolves jumped ahead 10-0 and never looked back, holding leads of 17-9 after one quarter and 30-14 at intermission.
Portland, which still trailed by as many as 16 points late in the third quarter, closed the gap to 37-28 on buckets from Jill McGrath (seven points) and Ruth Kelley (10 points). But Hyde answered with an 11-0 run. Beard fueled the spurt with seven straight points, including a rainbow 3-pointer from the corner that lifted Hyde to a 48-28 lead with just 2:30 left to play.
“I was proud of the way we kept fighting back,” said Chaconis. “But it was almost like we would get it to that single digit and then we would give up the big play. Give Hyde credit. They went on runs, they’d go five, seven in a row and then we’d have to regroup and try to claw our way back again.”
Junior guard Brooke Marconi had nine points on three 3-point baskets and sophomore guard Courtney Cote gave Portland a lift off the bench in the third quarter by scoring four points and hauling in six rebounds.
There weren’t many other highlights for Portland, a young, guard oriented team that experienced some real growing pains against Hyde’s defensive quickness and aggressiveness on the boards.
“(Hyde) got out to that early lead and we couldn’t overcome that,” said Chaconis. “Part of it is jitters. We only have two seniors and really only three players with varsity game experience.”
Hyde’s experience, led by Beard and Mims, showed down the stretch.
“Our seniors did very well,” said Claxton. “We’re not in the condition that we need to be in at this point but I’m proud of them.”
Mims is one of the best and quickest players in the Shoreline. A small, slashing guard who plays big, she continually hurt Portland in transition, either by pulling up for a short lefty jumper, finding an open teammate or taking the ball hard to the basket.
Mims is the only 1000 point scorer in Hyde girls basketball history. She reached the milestone at the end of last season. She is simply a treat to watch, much like her coach was back in the day.
Claxton scored a then state record 2,420 career points at Wilbur Cross High School while leading the Governors to three straight (1978-1980) Class L championships. She was selected to the Parade All-American Third Team and played at Kansas before transferring to Old Dominion. In 1985, Claxton was named the Final Four MVP as Old Dominion captured the NCAA Division I championship.
Claxton was one of the inaugural inductees into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988, and is also a recipient of the prestigious Gold Key Award from the Connecticut Sportswriters Alliance.
Claxton, the coach, has remarkably led Hyde to the Class S quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons. And despite losing Maya Eggleston, who played two seasons at Hyde before transferring to Sacred Heart-Waterbury (Eggleston had 17 points and eight rebounds in Sacred Heart’s 49-42 season-opening win against Torrington), Claxton remains optimistic.
“I thought we did OK but we still have a lot of room for improvement,” Claxton said. “It’s the first game and we’ve only had about eight days of practice. We’ve got five returners and six new girls so it’s one game at a time. I’m excited.”
Chaconis is also happy to get the season underway. Last April, Chaconis joined Claxton as a member of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. He has a new assistant coach, former player Laurie Kelley, and he seems as enthusiastic as ever as he begins his 40th season with the Highlanders.
“Fortunately, we have 19 games left to try and make some…adjustments. Is that the right word?”
Chaconis smiled. It would be a long bus ride back to Portland, the loss against Hyde already in the rear-view mirror.