Middletown basketball improved its season record to 6-3 after taking down Bristol Central 57-55 on the road Friday.
Junior center Taji Owens scored a game-high 17 points and was one of four Blue Dragons in double figures. Jerry Robinson (13 points, nine assists), Mikie Rhodes (11) and Andrew Campbell (10) also reached the mark.
The Blue Dragons are now second place in the Central Connecticut Conference South division with a 4-1 record, behind only Maloney of Meriden, who Middletown lost to 75-64 at home last Tuesday. MHS has big wins over fellow division mates Berlin, Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central but also possesses confounding losses against New Britain and Tolland.
With injuries having kept star junior guard Shawn Strickland off the floor for a good stretch of the season, the team has been led by Rhodes, a senior forward who was a CCC South All-star last season. Rhodes has been a force inside every game and already earned four double-doubles. Owens has broken out with a couple of strong offensive games and MHS Head Coach Dave Sytulek praised him for his rebounding. Complementary players like junior forward Andrew Campbell and senior guard Jalen Manzie have made up for the absence of Strickland and other injured players to some extent with great efforts on the defensive end and in skills like ball-handling. While different players have stepped up to fill the void, the lack of depth Middletown has featured due to injuries has hurt the team performance wise.
“I would have liked to be better then 5-3,” said Sytulek on Friday afternoon before the Bristol Central victory. “Losing Shawn for a couple of games definitely hurt our depth. When we were minus him and a couple of other players against Maloney, we couldn’t quite stay with them and got outscored 27-11 in the third quarter.”
Sytulek knows his team has talent and has been pleased with their performance in a number of areas. But he wants to see a more consistent effort from the Blue Dragons.
“Our defensive effort of late has been a strength,” said Sytulek, later praising players like Rhodes and Campbell for their work on that end. “But we have to improve in putting together a full game and displaying intensity all four quarters.”
Middletown will certainly need to play every contest with complete focus and intensity to win the CCC South. Only two of the squad’s remaining games are outside the division. MHS will have to take down Bulkeley and again beat Berlin and Bristol Eastern to even have a shot at beating out Maloney for first place in the division. Maloney is currently 2.5 games in front of MHS. A division championship is a tall order, but Sytulek could see it happening for the Blue Dragons, who have won four of their past five.
“If we keep improving we have an opportunity to contend for the CCC South title.” He said. “I can see our team winning 15 games in the regular season.”