Pictured: Middletown’s Marshall Butler looks for a teammate after getting trapped on the baseline in the third quarter against Wethersfield. Butler scored 5 points in his varsity debut Monday.
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – Middletown scored 21 points in the first quarter of its first game in the COVID era and looked good and ready to run Wethersfield out of the gym Monday night.
But the Blue Dragons, 11 months between games and without the benefit of at least one scrimmage to prepare for the regular, got a little gassed and plenty disjointed and sloppy. And Wethersfield was good enough to hang in well into the fourth quarter.
The Eagles took their first lead of the night with 5:35 remaining, and the game went back and forth until the final half-minute. After Middletown rebounded a Wethersfield, junior guard Matt Steuerwald took off with the outlet pass and laid in what was the deciding bucket for a 50-48 Blue Dragons victory.
“We’ll get better,” Middletown coach Rick Privott said.
With the Dragons struggling in the half court, Privott said there was no other choice but to push the ball for the late score.
“When Matt took it down there, he found the lane and finished that layup. It was HUGE,” Privott said.
Wethersfield had possession with 10.6 seconds left on the clock and called a quick timeout after inbounding the ball under its own basket. Eagles coach Brian Fanelli set up his offense for a 3-point try.
“I was going for the win,” he said. “That timeout, I had a better thought, a better play I wanted to run from the sideline. If we got a look wide open, we would have taken it.”
The Eagles looked for Jack Freitas to take the shot, but Middletown did not give him a good look. The Blue Dragons got the long rebound and ran out the clock at the other end.
Junior guard Chace Petgrave led Middletown with 12 points in his first varsity start after missing all of last season with a football injury. Junior center Elijah Wilborn scored 8 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had two blocks, and junior Dariyon Drake added 9 points off the bench.
The Middletown girls also opened their season Monday, defeated Wethersfield 52-25 on the road (box score and more below).
Jake Prunier led Wethersfield with 12 points and Freitas added 11.
The Blue Dragons built a 19-9 lead out of the gate and led 21-14 after one quarter. Senior guard Mekhi Toler (6 points), Petgrave (5 points) and sophomore Marshall Butler (5 points), who was making his debut with the varsity, led the charge on the offensive end.
Middletown led by eight (32-24) at the break and by nine (39-30) late in the third quarter. The Eagles, who used their physicality to create turnovers and force Middletown into making some bad decisions, got several buckets in transition to finish out the quarter on a 9-2 run, slicing Middletown’s lead to two, 41-39, heading to the fourth.
“We can do much better defensively. Our help defense could have been a lot better,” Privott said. “What we didn’t take advantage of … I thought we could get more charges, and that comes from being in the right position to help out, and I don’t think we did that very well.
“This game showed us a lot of stuff we need to work on still. Defense doesn’t change whether you have a mask on or not.”
Wethersfield went ahead for the first at 44-43, courtesy of a 3-pointer by Freitas, with 5:35 to go. Wilborn scored in the lane on Middletown’s ensuing possession, Freitas buried another long 3 to put Wethersfield back in front.
The Eagles stepped up their defense on the perimeter as Middletown worked to find an open man, who turned out to be Steuerwald/ He drained his only 3-pointer on the night with 3:02 remaining as the lead changed hands again.
After a Blue Dragons turnover, Joseph Raposo scored in the post to tie the game at 48 with 2:21 left. The Eagles would not score again.
Fanelli said one of his starters, a senior, was unavailable because of COVID-19, as was one of his assistant coaches.
“To be honest, I’m proud of these guys. These guys played their (butts) off.” Fanelli said. “They played tough. We have a lot of improving to do. We used a lot of younger guys tonight that we weren’t planning on using, so I’m pretty proud of the way we did things tonight. We could have executed better, but for where we are, we’re good.”
Middletown is scheduled to play CCC rival Berlin at home on Thursday night (6:45 p.m., no fans).
“We have to get more out of everybody,” Privott said. “If you just stay patient and rebound the ball and make better passes, we would have been all set. But you have to credit Wethersfield because they stuck with it.”
Middletown 50, Wethersfield 48
Mike Bielak 1 0-0 2, Jack Freitas 4 0-0 11, Jake Prunier 4 4-4 12, Robert Ruiz Rivera 4 0-0 8, Joseph Raposo 0 0-2 0, Zak Zurzola 0 0-0 0, Louie Montalvo 3 1-2 8, Jomar Feliciano 2 0-0 4, Dylan Knapp 1 1-2 3. Totals: 19 6-10 48.
Matt Steuerwald 3 0-0 7, Mekhi Toler 2 1-1 6, Elijah Wilborn 4 0-0 8, Chace Petgrave 5 1-3 12, Marshall Butler 2 0-0 5, Kai Cottle 1 0-0 3, Dariyon Drake 3 2-3 9. Totals: 20 4-7 50.
3-Pointers: W–Freitas 3, Montalvo 1. M–Drake 1, Cottle 1, Steuerwald 1, Toler 1, Butler 1, Petgrave 1.
Middletown Girls 52, Wethersfield 25
WETHERSFIELD — Tyah Pettaway led the Blue Dragons with 15 points, with Kya Mayo and Jenaya Salafia also hitting double figures with 11 each.
“After struggling at the start, the team showed tremendous mental toughness digging in on the defensive end,” Middletown coach Rob Smernoff said. “We only allowed 13 points in the final 3three quarters. Once we were able to change momentum on the defensive end, we were able to translate that positive energy to the offensive end as well.”
Jenaya Salafia 5 1 11, Aysia Henderson 1 0 2, Tyah Pettaway 5 4 15, Kya Mayo 4 2 11, Jada Bryant 1 1 3, Shadae Bushay 3 0 7, Shalyn Smith 1 0 3. Totals 20 8 52.
Kathleen Sullivan 1 0 2, Vanessa Vendetti 2 0 5, Olivia Barnett 3 0 6, Alison Wagner 1 0 2, Gabriella Amoddio 3 2 8, Mackenzie Mori 1 0 2. Totals: 11 2 25.
Score By Quarters
MHS 3 19 16 14—52
Weth 12 4 5 4—25
3-Pointers: M—Mayo 1, Bushay 1, Smith 1, Pettaway. W—Vendetti 1.