Basketball: Statement win for Shelton on opening night

Almost a year ago to the day, the 2017-18 Shelton High team lost a heartbreaking opening game in overtime to Masuk in Monroe. It set the tone for a long and difficult 3-17 season.

This year's season opener on Saturday night was a very different story.

The Gaels coasted to a 76-51 non-conference victory over Masuk in front of about 350 at Murray Gymnasium.

Shelton coach Brian Gardiner hopes the impressive win sets the tone for a successful campaign.

“All off-season long, these guys have been focused on putting [last season] behind us and doing the right thing, and they deserved this win,” said Gardiner. “They’ve been working so hard from the first day of practice. It’s just a different tone, a different feel. They just want to win.”

Four Gaels scored in double-figures, led by senior co-captain Brian Berritto’s 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He added five rebounds, five steals and three assists.

Junior Peri Basimakopoulos added 17 points and six rebounds, including 10 points in a 14-4 Shelton run to start the second half.

That run extended a five-point Gael halftime lead to 44-29.

With Shelton up 50-33, Masuk put together its best stretch of play, scoring nine consecutive points to cut the deficit to 50-42 with 2:22 left in the third quarter.

Gardiner didn’t call a timeout, letting his experienced squad play its way out of its mini-funk.

Sophomore transfer Melvin Kolenovic (10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks), the tallest Gael in recent memory at 6-foot-6, ended the Panther run with a pair of free throws.

“Big Melvin made a difference tonight,” Gardiner said. “When they’re driving [to the basket], it’s nice that they have to think twice about it.”

Senior co-captain Kevin Belden (8 points) added two free throws and a put-back basket to offset a Masuk hoop and stake Shelton to a 56-44 lead after three quarters.

Berritto helped ice the game with nine points over the first 4:30 of the final quarter, as Shelton went on a 20-3 run to increase its lead to as many as 29 points before settling for the final margin of 76-51.

“A good team on opening night comes out and does this,” said Gardiner of the margin of victory, Shelton’s largest since it beat Jonathan Law by 25 (81-56) on Dec. 28, 2015. “These guys wanted this one real bad.”

Gardiner likes that this year’s team has more offensive weapons, taking pressure off Berritto.

“Last year, Berritto was trying to carry us. This year, he’s got a lot of help,” said Gardiner. “He doesn’t have to handle the ball as much. It frees him up to do some other things that he’s capable of doing.”

Some of that help comes from sophomore guard Brian Belade, who scored 13 points.

Gardiner also credited the play of senior guard Martin Dominguez (3 points, 3 assists, 2 steals).

“The guy all year long that you might not see a lot of points out of that affects the game constantly is Martin,” said Gardiner. “He just does a lot of nice things that go unnoticed.”

Senior guard Jakai Barnes, a transfer from Westhill in Stamford, rounded out the Shelton scoring with two points to go with four rebounds.

Given that the Gaels play in an SCC Oronoque Division that includes the likes of Career, Notre Dame-West Haven and Fairfield Prep, winning non-divisional games such as Saturday night are critical to Shelton’s hopes of qualifying for the Division III state tournament .

Shelton travels to Wallingford next Friday night to take on a Lyman Hall squad that features 6-foot-7, 200-pound senior center Cam Regan. Game time is 7 p.m.

Game notes: Shelton shot a blistering 47.3% (26-of-55) from the floor. Masuk shot nearly as well at 44.3%. The big difference was at the foul line, where Shelton converted 17-of-26 (65.4%) to Masuk's 3-of-14 (21.4%). After making just 3-of-12 treys in the first half, the Gaels converted 4-of-7 in the second half.