Pictured: Jada Bryant of Middletown ties up Megan Mikosz underneath the Blue Dragons’ basketball in the fourth quarter of Monday’s tournament game.
By Paul Augeri
SOUTHINGTON – Middletown’s girls basketball team played shorthanded for much of 2019-2020 due to season-ending knee injuries to two seniors and a high-scoring junior.
Yet the Blue Dragons never gave in to their circumstances. Several underclassmen thrived in larger roles and played with determination at both ends of the floor. Their 10-10 record at season’s end felt like a higher level of accomplishment than just .500.
It was no surprise then, that Middletown had an opportunity to pull off a first-round upset in the Class LL tournament. The Blue Dragons simply ran out of time.
Southington guard Livvy Pizzitola drove the baseline in the final seconds for the winning bucket as the ninth-seeded Blue Knights turned back the Blue Dragons 43-41.
Middletown, the 24th seed in the 32-team bracket, inbounded the ball with 4.6 seconds left but had to go the length of the court and was unable to get a shot off.
Sophomore point guard Tyah Pettaway, who overcame a left knee strain six minutes into the game and wound up having a major impact in the second half, finished with a game-high 23 points for Middletown (10-11).
“We wanted to get it to an end-of-game situation. To (Southington’s) credit, usually when it gets to the end and you can keep it close,” Smernoff said, “then the pressure gets on that favored team and they crack. And they didn’t crack tonight. They made big play after big play.”
Pettaway scored on a drive to the basket with 30 seconds left to tie the game, shortly after Jessica Carr had given Southington (16-6) a 41-39 lead.
Pizzitola worked the clock to about the 10-second mark, then kept the ball on a baseline drive and scored from about five feet out. The play called for the option to dish the ball to a cutter.
“I saw a lane and it was wide open,” she said.
“That’s a tough shot,” Southington coach Howie Hewitt said. “Baseline shot, tough shot. She had the wherewithal to keep it and go.”
Middletown erased a six-point halftime deficit thanks to the dazzling play of Pettaway, who scored 9 of the team’s 12 points in the third quarter. The Blue Dragons were ahead 32-27 before Pizzitola drained a 3-pointer for the final bucket of the quarter to get Southington within 32-30.
The Knights did not stop there. Pizzitola, who finished with 17 points, hit another 3-pointer 22 seconds into the fourth, and Bri Harris followed with one of her own to put Middletown behind 35-32.
Pettaway scored on a drive before 6-foot sophomore Allison Barretta put Southington back in front by three at 37-34 with 5:32 remaining.
Middletown’s Aysia Henderson made the first of two free throws and a corner jumper by Jenaya Salafia tied the game at 37 with less than four minutes to go.
After Pizzitola drove the lane to put the Knights up 39-37 with 2:32 left, Southington rebounded a Middletown miss and then pulled the ball out to kill some clock. It backfired when the Dragons’ defense forced a turnover with 1:13 left.
After a Middletown timeout, Henderson scored a second-chance bucket to tie it at 39. This set the stage for a thrilling final 60 seconds.
“To my kids’ credit, in that fourth quarter and even in the third quarter, they played great,” Smernoff said. “They fought back, could have easily been frustrated at the half, and yet we had them on the ropes. But like good teams do when they’re on the ropes, they made their shots when we needed them to miss them all. You just tip your cap to them.”
India Weston, the only healthy Middletown senior, scored 2 points in her final game. Sophomore Shadae Bushay contributed 7 points for Middletown.
Southington will meet Central Connecticut Conference foe Glastonbury in the second round. The Tomahawks eliminated Mercy 57-44 on Monday.
Jenaya Salafia 1 0-0 2, India Weston 1 0-2 2, Aysia Henderson 2 1-2 5, Tyah Pettaway 9 4-4 23, Shadae Bushay 2 1-2 7, Jada Bryant 1 0-0 2, Trayvonna Jefferson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 6-10 41.
Bri Harris 4 0 11, Livvy Pizzitola 7 1-1 17, Jessica Carr 4 1-5 9, Megan Mikosz 0 2-2 2, Allison Barretta 1 0-0 2, Gabby D’Angelo 0 0-0 0, Taylor Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Julia Korp 0 0-0 0, Madison Hulten 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17 4-8 43.
Score By Quarters
M 17 3 12 9—41
S 15 11 4 13—43
3-Pointers: M—Bushay 2, Pettaway 1; S—Harris 3, Carr 2.
Records: Middletown 10-11, Southington 16-6.