HARTFORD – Scoring machine Melanie Polanco didn’t wait long before reaching the 1,000-point milestone on Thursday evening.
Needing four points, the most prolific scorer in Maloney girls basketball history appropriately did it in her first two shots of a hard-fought 41-39 victory over Bulkeley.
The 5-foot-7 senior guard reached 1,000 just 2:06 into the game. Her first two points came on a put-back at the 6:25 mark. The milestone maker was an elbow jumper 29 seconds later that swished the twine.
“It felt great. I couldn’t do it without my teammates. I worked hard for it, so I’m very proud,” Polanco said.
At the next stoppage in play, an announcement acknowledging Polanco’s 1,000th point was made at the Babe Allen Fieldhouse. A Bulkeley player handed Polanco a commemorative ball and a rose. The Maloney senior responded with a thank you and a smile.
“There’s not too many Melanie Polanco’s around,” Maloney coach John Vieira said. “Melanie Polanco right now is playing like one of the best players in the conference. It’s been a joy to coach her and I’m enjoying all of the time we have together. She’s a competitor.”
Polanco embraced her teammates and coaches before going back to work and finishing with a game-high 26 points.
Vieira said Polanco’s desire sets her apart.
“She wants to prove, not only to herself, that she’s the best player on the court,” Vieira said. “Most nights she does that. Some nights she will hear me from the sidelines say, ‘No, Melanie — great shot; just like we drew it up.’
“But she’s a 1,000-point scorer for a reason. Sometimes I'm scratching my head and she will look over at me and say, ‘Coach, we’re good.’ And that’s all I need.”
The Spartans backed up Polanco’s night with a come-from-behind CCC crossover win to get within one win of a state tournament berth.
Maloney (7-8) clinched the game on a layup by Daisa White (10 points) with 16 seconds left. The senior put it in off the glass after a perfect feed from Alexa Papallo.
With Polanco’s sharpshooting, Maloney jumped out to a 8-2 lead. Following the brief ceremony for the 1,000 points, the air seemed to come out of the game for the Spartans. The Bulldogs exploded on a 13-2 run to go up 15-10.
Maloney coach John Vieira called a timeout and tried to fire up his team.
Bulkeley’s Khanaza Ashley (7 points) hit a 3-ball to put Bulkeley up 18-12. The Spartans responded with 10-0 run fueled by back-to-back treys by Polanco. Then White added a layup, assisted by Polanco, to put the Spartans back up 20-18. Polanco capped the rally with a transition layup.
The Spartans held a 24-22 lead at the half.
Maloney looked lost in the third quarter. The Bulldogs, led by sophomore Tyanna Jiles (17 points), finished the quarter on a 11-0 run to take a 35-28 after three quarters.
The Spartans made just one shot in the third quarter. In the fourth, Polanco started the Spartans off strong with back to back buckets that narrowed the gap to three..
The Maloney defense limited the Bulldogs (3-11) to just four points in the fourth quarter. Jiles made a layup with 1:49 left on the clock that put the Bulldogs up 39-35.
The Spartans ended the game on a 6-0 run, including the all-important bucket by White in the closing seconds. Bulkeley had two attempts at game-winning shots that missed.
“Dasia, tonight, was probably our most consistent player,” Vieira said. “She brought it tonight defensively and she was in foul trouble. She had four fouls, but I had to keep her in.”
The Spartans will try to clinch a postseason berth on Monday when they host city rival Wilcox Tech. Polanco’s accomplishment will be recognized on Monday night.
Polanco entered the game averaging 17 points and 11 boards. She used a 24-point effort in a near-upset of unbeaten Simsbury on Monday to get within four points of the milestone. Simsbury, at the time, was the No. 4 team in the state.
Polanco has endured ankle injuries since the volleyball season in the fall. She is a two-time All-Record-Journal basketball player and also got the nod for the All-RJ volleyball team as a junior.
Polanco said she is still deciding about where she will play at the next level and is still weighing her options.
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