SHELTON — Senior co-captain Brian Berritto recorded Shelton High’s second triple-double in a week, and five Gael players scored in double figures, as Shelton coasted past visiting Branford 75-62 on Coaches vs. Cancer night Friday at Murray Gymnasium.
Shelton improves to 9-8 overall, handing Branford (1-16) its 10th straight loss.
After Shelton went 26 years between triple-doubles — Bobby Ayers in 1993 until Melvin Kolenovic last Friday in a win over Foran — Berritto did it again Friday night, scoring a team-high 17 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and handing out 10 assists.
The 16 rebounds was one off the school record of 17 rebounds in a game set by Casey Belade, older brother of current Gael Brian Belade.
The game started out much slower than Shelton wanted. Upset-minded Branford grabbed a 10-5 lead with 3:30 left in the first quarter and took the Gael offense out of its rhythm with its deliberate play on offense.
“They wanted to slow it down,” said Gardiner of Branford. “If you saw at the beginning of the game, I got a little worried because once they are up four or six [points], then they start holding it out.”
Gardiner went to a smaller, quicker lineup, by bringing in seniors Jakai Barnes and Martin Dominguez off the bench. The lineup change immediately paid off as Shelton went on a 25-2 run.
“We were trying to make the game full court, take some chances with the pressure just to see if we could speed them up, which we did,” said Gardiner. “Once we got the lead and were able to play our pace, they couldn’t keep up with us.”
All five Gaels on the court — Berritto, Barnes, Dominguez, Kevin Belden and Peri Basimakopoulos — scored at least one bucket in the run as Shelton took a 30-12 lead with 4:47 left in the first half.
Barnes scored six of his career-high 16 points during this stretch.
“That’s what we expect, for [Barnes] to give us a spark off the bench,” said Gardiner. “He’s settling into his role.”
Gardiner also credited Dominguez, who contributed 12 points in his first game back since missing five games due to a concussion.
Shelton continued to pour it on into the early stages of the fourth quarter.
Belade scored all 10 of his points after the intermission as the Gaels led by as many as 26 points, 63-37, early in the fourth quarter before Gardiner played reserves for the final minutes.
Basimakopoulos scored 10 points, Belden had five points along with a couple of nice blocked shots, Kolenovic four and Gavin Rohlman two to round out the Shelton scoring.
Gardiner was pleased with the effort, particularly the passing as Shelton notched 14 assists leading to a lot of easy baskets.
“We’ve been getting on them a lot lately about the half-court offense because we told them as we’re getting toward the post-season and playing a lot better teams, we rely on our transition offense but half-court is where close games against good teams are going to be won,” said Gardiner, whose team shot 49.2% from the floor (31-of-63) against the Hornets. “So we’ve been really, really pushing them on the offensive end for good possessions.
“The extra pass always leads to a better shot,” Gardiner added.
Shelton heads into its final full week of the regular season looking to improve its seeding for both the Southern Connecticut Conference and State tournaments.
The Gaels play what should be a feisty East Haven (6-11) team Tuesday night. The Hornets need to win two of their final three games to qualify for the postseason.
The Gaels return home next Friday to host Sheehan (11-7) on senior night.
Both games are 7 p.m. starts.
“This is important down the stretch,” said Gardiner. “We want to be playing well going into the tournaments.”