MERIDEN — Maloney point guard Olivia Aitken was unavailable to play Friday night against East Catholic. In her absence, Melanie Polanco took over the role of point guard.
With ball in her hands, Polanco shined all night.
The senior scored a career-high 31 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished six assists. She also blocked four shots and made three steals to lead the Spartans to an exciting 56-54 CCC interdivisional win over the Eagles.
East Catholic set the tone in the first quarter. Edisha Galan got going early, with two 3-pointers. The three ball was effective of all night for East Catholic.
Maloney didn’t get off to the hot start that East Catholic did, but still made some shots. The quarter ended with East Catholic leading 12-8.
The second quarter is when Polanco really heated up. She scored eight points in the frame, some on acrobatic layups around the hoop. In total, Polanco had 12 first-half points.
For the Eagles, the second quarter was consistent with their first. They scored 11 points in the second and continued hitting their jumpers. Galan led the way for East Catholic in the first half with 11 points. Maloney, however, had the lead, 26-23.
In the third quarter, East Catholic lit it up from beyond the arc. The Eagles hit four threes in the quarter and forced Maloney to come out and guard them from deep.
Maloney got off to a slow start in the quarter, but continued to play defense and rebound well.
The Eagles began trying to deny Polanco the ball on inbounds and force someone else to beat them. They did slow Polanco down for a chunk of the third quarter, but they couldn’t stop her. Polanco ended the quarter by hitting a buzzer-beater from beyond half court to tie the game, 40-40.
Polanco’s surge continued throughout the fourth quarter. She continued to drive into the lane and draw contact. She also made smart passes throughout the night, assisting on multiple baskets.
Something had to give for both sides in the fourth quarter. East Catholic continued to pick apart Maloney’s defense and score effectively. On the other hand, East Catholic was getting outrebounded as the Spartans came up with several hustle plays.
The Eagles also had no answer on defense for Melanie Polanco.
With five seconds left and Maloney leading 54-52, East Catholic’s Kaylee Jeamel scored a layup off an inbounds pass to tie the game.
East Catholic, however, got over-aggressive when Maloney inbounded the ball and got called for a foul with 0.8 seconds left.
Maloney was in the double-bonus and East Catholic had fouled Polanco. Polanco hit both free throws. East Catholic had no time to get off a shot and Maloney had the victory.
Cani Pasqualoni led East Catholic with 19 points. Galan had 14. Jeamel added nine.
Along with Polanco’s 31, the Spartans got six points from Alexa Papallo, Ivori-Gem Johnson and Dasia White. Johnson grabbed 12 rebounds and Courtney Ubaike had 10.
“My teammates and my coach always have my back,” said Polanco. “They’re the ones that called and set those screens that get me open and that’s the key.”
“They had grit, but we need to clean the defense up,” said Maloney coach John Vieira. “We threw every defense in our play book at them, but nothing worked. Free throws down the stretch got it done. Pap had the hot hand and we fed it to her. Melanie kept us in it. Courtney and Rowena played some big defense underneath, but we need to get better around the perimeter."
Polanco’s monster game puts her at 923 points for her career. She is on track to become the first girl in Maloney basketball history to score 1,000 points.
“Tonight she showed why, if all goes well, she’s going to be the first female 1,000 point scorer in school history,” said Vieira.