MERIDEN — Platt’s sweetest win in girls basketball last season came on Valentine’s Day at the expense of Maloney.
Not only did the Panthers collect a 37-35 upset on Feb. 14, they did it in dramatic comeback, erasing a 14-point deficit in the final four minutes of the game.
Remember that one? The Spartans do as much as the Panthers as the next meeting in the rivalry looms Wednesday night on the East Side.
“We have not forgotten we blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter last season,” Maloney coach John Vieira said. “Both teams have similar records and it’s always going to be a good game. Both teams have to show up. A lot of times this comes down to who manages their emotions best. We have to keep them focused.”
Maloney is also dealing with the sudden departure of leading scorer Jaylice Rosario. The reigning Record-Journal Girls Basketball Player of the Year withdrew from Maloney on Friday and is transferring to Hillhouse.
“She’s moving in with her dad in New Haven,” Vieira said.
The senior forward was averaging a team-high 18 points this season. With her departure, the door opens further for emerging freshman guard Skyler Burke, who has torched the competition for 17 points per game.
“I love coaching her,” Vieira said of Burke. “We have days where I’m her biggest cheerleader and days where I’m not afraid to challenge her and she’s usually up for the challenge.
“She always asks questions and is mature beyond her years,” Vieira continued. “She’s an ultimate team player. She’s always upbeat and positive. She’s got one of the purest shots I’ve had here at Maloney. She’s not afraid of competition. She’s a joy to coach and keeps getting better. She’s working on her mid-range and her penetration.”
Maloney (6-6) has also been working on its defense. In the last six games, in which they’ve gone 4-2, the Spartans have allowed an average of 31.3 points. In their first six, in which they went 2-4, the Spartans allowed an average of 46.
Without Rosario, the Spartans will go from a post-oriented team to a guard-oriented squad.
Burke and senior guard Evelyn Beltran (4 ppg., 5 rpg.) head the Maloney backcourt along with sophomore Jenna Quilty and freshmen Kaylani Zackery and Brianna Cusimano. Juniors Tayshanay Carraway and Yousra Bahili are also vying for a boost in minutes.
Nadia Berrios is now Maloney’s top post presence. The senior is grabbing six rebounds per game. Senior Madalyn Plumberg and freshman Amaya McNeil could see more time in the post.
Against Platt, the Spartans will need to have interior strength to counter Antwanette Tann. Platt’s top weapon all season, the 5-foot-10 senior forward is averaging 20 points and 14.5 rebounds per contest. She also leads her team in blocks, steals and deflections.
“Everyone knows she’s our main scorer and she’s getting double-teamed, but she still finds a away,” said Platt coach Tina Gonyea. “She’s tough.”
“We have to come up with something for Antwanette,” Vieira said. “We are aware of her and some younger girls. A team like Platt is never going to stop playing.”
“Our team has played with a lot of heart this season,” Gonyea concurred, noting that Platt’s challenge against the Spartans will be containing their guard play. “Maloney is fast and talented ... We have a game plan and we are going to stick to it and hope for the best. We know we have to prevent Skyler from making too many 3-pointers.
“Overall, we’ve been so inconsistent and we have to take care of the ball,” Gonyea added. “We need to do the little things.”
Platt was 5-7 heading into Tuesday night’s matchup at home with Hall. The Panthers were looking to snap out of a two-game skid prior to Wednesday’s rivalry showdown. Tip-off tonight at Maloney is 6:45 p.m.