Pictured: Coach Rick Privott and the Blue Dragons have won four of five to start the season. Last year’s seven-win season is a motivating factor in the team’s quest to challenge in Division II.
By Paul Augeri
Welcome to the Sunday Read!
This is your weekly rundown of what’s happening in Middlesex County’s world of sports (and beyond) and what might be on my mind in the moment.
If you have a tip or a story idea, pass it along in this article’s comments section below, or drop me a line at the above gmail address. Remember, middlesexcountysports.com has you covered.
Let’s get moving …
Top of mind on this second Sunday of 2020: Just how good can the Middletown High boys basketball team be?
I think the sky’s the limit for coach Rick Privott’s Blue Dragons. His team checks every box — scoring, defense and depth – and will contend for a state championship in March.
It’s high time people start filling all those empty seats inside LaBella-Sullivan Gymnasium. There is plenty of room on this bandwagon.
Middletown has size in the middle in sophomore Elijah Wilborn and size off the bench to whenever Wilborn needs a break. The Dragons can defend in the full or half court and at the rim, and with Privott emphasizing defense at every turn, his team will get better as the season goes on.
There are four players who can provide double-figure scoring – Donte Pope, Jonathan Nkonoki, Mekhi Toler and Wilborn – on any given night. Point guard Kenny Fountain is a supreme floor general and a distributor who puts his teammates in a position to do damage. Each starter can handle the ball.
Depth, though, is Middletown’s forte.
Last week against Maloney, Toler was unavailable for the first half and Fountain was out due to illness. With sophomore Matt Steuerwald stepping in to run the offense and Erin Strong in for Toler, the Blue Dragons did not miss a beat. Privott’s reserves, among them played most of the fourth quarter and Middletown won by 30.
And let’s not forget, if not for football injuries that have sidelined impact guards Tyron Scharborough and Chace Petgrave for the season, the Blue Dragons would be even deeper.
Middletown owns victories over Simsbury, Platt, Bridgeport Central and Maloney. In its only defeat, on Dec. 21 to then-No. 1 Windsor, Middletown still had people talking.
The Dragons did not play terribly well on that night at Trinity College’s Ferris Athletic Center. By Privott’s estimate, his team turned it over two dozen times and had no business being in the game in the fourth quarter. And yet they were and had shots at the lead. Windsor won 80-75.
There is one other thing about this team that cannot be overlooked. The players like each other, respect each other and clearly enjoy playing (and winning) together.
In Division II, which isn’t terribly deep this season, Middletown (and don’t forget 5-1 Xavier) are among other notables like unbeatens Staples and Naugatuck; Prince Tech, with Division I-caliber swingman Kazell Stewart (27.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game); Innovation, which jumped three divisions after winning last year’s Division V title; and Bristol Central, with budding 7-foot sophomore Donovan Clingan, who has a scholarship offer from UConn.
After the win over Maloney, Pope said the team is on a “revenge season.” Middletown won only seven games in 2018-19 against a killer schedule and missed out on a state tourney berth. The Dragons were 0-4 in games decided by four or fewer points.
“We had high expectations last year, so this is basically a revenge season,” said Pope, the team’s leading scorer. “Everyone is saying Middletown isn’t back and that we’ve lost their touch. Redemption – that’s what this season is all about.”
Nkonoki said the Blue Dragons learned a lot about themselves in their loss to Windsor.
“From that game, it showed how hard we could play and that if we could hang with a team like Windsor, we can hang with anybody,” he said. “We’re not worried about just hanging with them … our goal is to shock the state this year.”
After Monday night’s road game against Plainville, Middletown will get a good test from visiting CCC rival Glastonbury (5-2) on Thursday night (6:45 tip). middlesexcountysports.com will be there.
THIS AND THAT
**Todd Salva gets another crack at Win No. 400 when his Coginchaug boys basketball team hosts Haddam-Killingworth on Monday night. It is hard to believe that this is Salva’s 29th season since succeeding the late and legendary Wally Camp as coach.
**The venue for the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame’s induction dinner, scheduled for Jan. 23, has been moved to the Elks Club on Maynard Street in Middletown.
The night begins at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m. The closing date for reservations or sponsorships is Jan. 15. Tickets are $50 per person and $15 for children under 12.
The 26th induction class includes 10 individuals: Chris Brown (track and field), Mike Fiala (baseball), Jim Foley (soccer), Hal Guy (baseball), Sandy Hoffman (officiating), Tony Pulino (track), Marty Ryczek (soccer and baseball), Maggie Smith (softball, field hockey), Amari Spievey (football) and Frank Shekosky (martial arts).
Two teams also will be honored: Xavier’s 1980 Class L championship baseball team and the undefeated 1969 Wesleyan University football team.
**Cromwell will get an up-close look at Valley Regional’s terrifying defense when the teams meet Monday night in Deep River. Cromwell (5-1 overall) is unbeaten in five Shoreline Conference games, while Valley has won four in a row after a 1-3 start to its season.
**Indispensable Valley point guard Cade Ensinger gets my vote as the Shoreline’s best all-around player and frontrunner for Shoreline Player of the Year honors. The chiseled 6-footer had a triple-double (14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in Friday’s win over North Branford. He is a nightmare matchup for any opponent.
**Middletown swimmers who won events in the team’s 98-83 loss to Conard last week: Andrew Strickland in the 50 free (24.22 seconds); Nicole Tust in the 1-meter dive (179.90 points); and Matthew Lombardo in the 500 free (5:32.18).
**WCNX Radio returns to the local basketball scene for Saturday’s East Windsor-Cromwell boys game at Jake Salafia Gymnasium. It will be a 5 p.m. tip-off. For all the talent Cromwell lost after last season, the Panthers are 5-1 and undefeated in five Shoreline Conference games. This is coach John Pinone at work.
**I am counting the days until East Hampton (7-0 and atop the Shoreline girls standings) and Cromwell meet on the basketball court. Their one regular-season matchup is Jan. 24 at Cromwell (7pm). The Bellringers are the lone remaining undefeated team in Class S.
**Beldina Feratovic had 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in Old Saybrook’s 36-35 loss to St. Bernard on Saturday. Taylor Cote also scored 9 points for the Rams.
**Middletown High senior Greyson Pizzonia will continue his baseball career at Adelphi University.
**Cailey Botteon, who played her high school softball at Hale-Ray, will co-captain Southern Connecticut State’s team this spring.
**Katie Menard and Kaila Lujambio recently were named Mercy soccer co-captains for the 2020 season.
**Possibly this week, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will heap penalties on the Astros for illegally using technology to steal signs in the 2017 season. According to an ESPN report, the targets for discipline will be employees of the team, including the front office and on-field coaching personnel, but will not include the players involved in the scheme to cheat. Gut feeling here is that manager AJ Hinch gets a lot of time off.
**I am once again giving my No. 1 vote in the GameTimeCT poll to Windsor. The Warriors are 5-0 against state teams. The Warriors lost three games against Florida teams during a post-holiday southern trip. East Catholic is No. 1 by voters.
**How about a Middletown-Windsor rematch in the CCC tournament? Sign me up.