GIRLS BASKETBALL: Polanco (19 points) leads Maloney in season opener

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Polanco (19 points) leads Maloney in season opener

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MERIDEN – Early in the season, teams have to grind out wins. That was the case for the Maloney girls basketball team Monday in 47-41 CCC crossover victory on Opening Night at the Nessing Gymnasium.

The Spartans defeated Hartford Public, a team without a freshman or JV team and without a win since the season finale of the 2014-15 campaign.

But the Owls were anything but a pushover Monday. The Spartans persevered through foul trouble. Both seniors, Melanie Polanco and Dasia White, had four fouls heading into the fourth quarter.

Polonco sat four minutes after picking up that fourth infraction with 3:09 left in the third quarter and her squad trailing 32-30 after an old-fashioned three-point play by Public’s Kyaira El-Amin. That turned out to be the Owls’ last lead.

Maloney junior Alexa Papallo immediately took over the offense and, in a two-minute span, she dropped in two buckets and added an assist on a dish to White, who put Maloney up 36-32 after three quarters of play.

Victoria Reyes (12 points) her third trey of the game to start the fourth quarter and drew the Owls back within one, 36-35. That’s as close as the visitors would get as Polanco took control. The senior scored 10 of Maloney’s 11 points in the fourth. She attacked the hole and kept the ball in her hands down the stretch.

That effort was just enough to hold off Public and the debut of freshman Janai Oliver, who fouled out with 14 points with 1:16 left in the fourth.

Despite her foul trouble, Polanco had game-highs with 19 points and 11 rebounds. She also added four assists, five steals and two blocks. One of Polanco’s assists included a behind-the back pass for a fast-break layup by Courtney Ubaike.

“It was hard playing with four fouls, but I trust my teammates and they had my back,” Polanco said.

Late in the fourth, Maloney coach John Vieira spread the floor and let Polanco do her thing.

“We went to our bread and butter and just kind of spreading the ball out for Mel and setting some ball screens for her,” Vieira said.

Papallo chipped in with nine points. Courtney Ubaike was also strong, particularly in the first half in the post for the Spartans. She finished the contest with seven points and nine boards.

“In the first half she was unbelievable,” Vieira said. “She might have scored points in this game that she scored last season. She’s grown up a little bit.”

Rowena Gordon registered six rebounds for Maloney. White had six points.

The Owls stayed right with Maloney in the first half with some hot shooting beyond the arc. The visitors canned five 3-balls in the first 16 minutes. Maloney led 28-24 at the break.

The Spartans were hurt by missed layups throughout the game and shot 6-for-19 at the line.

“We showed our inexperience with only two returning starters,” Vieira said. “It took a lot of grittiness and attitude. We had some players in foul trouble and we were able to grind it out. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s the first game of the season and it’s a win.

“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I bet we missed about 10 layups today,” the coach added. “We made it more difficult than it probably should have been. But I don’t want to take anything away from Hartford Public for a second. Those girls worked their tails off.”

Point guard Olivia Aitken added five points for the Spartans, who finished 4-16 last year and are seeking their first state tournament bid since the 2013-14 campaign.

“I want to make states,” Polanco said. “I also want to have fun and be a family. If we keep working hard, I think we are going to make states.”

Maloney is right back in action Tuesday night at Manchester, then back home on Thursday to face Berlin.

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