STRATFORD—While first-year Bunnell girls basketball coach Francisco Salazar did not target a specific win total as a goal for his team, he is thrilled with the progress the Bulldogs have made under his guidance.
Mariana Trovarelli scored 15 points as Bunnell continued its turnaround season Monday with a 47-24 victory over cross-town rival Stratford at the Needham Gym.
Trovarelli also made three of six 3-pointers for the Bulldogs, who improved to 10-8, moving one step closer to their first winning season since 2009-10 after going 4-16 a year ago.
Bunnell also kept alive its hopes of making the South-West Conference playoffs, although it began the day two games behind Brookfield and New Milford for the final spot.
The Bulldogs host New Milford on Friday before concluding the regular season next Tuesday at Barlow.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Salazar, who took the job only three days before the start of the season. “I’m so grateful Bunnell hired me. I’m so pleased with the girls.
”They believe in what I coach. You couldn’t anything from a team but that, to respond. A team reflects the coach, and I’m intense and they play just the way I am. My passion is there and they’re playing with passion. I’m happy as a clam right now.”
Amanda Zdru, Adriana DeBernardo and Andrea Serreti each added eight points for the Bulldogs, who never trailed after Stratford (3-14) scored the first basket of the game.
According to Salazar, the Bulldogs have had a tendency this season to start slowly if they don’t practice the day before a game and he felt that again was the case Monday.
Stratford’s zone did keep the Bulldogs mostly of the perimeter in the first quarter, but a trio of treys—one each by Trovarelli, Serreti, DeBernardo—staked Bunnell to a 13-3 after the opening eight minutes.
The Bulldogs never looked back, extending the margin to 26-11 at the half.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs got their transition game going and attacked the basket, building a 23-5 lead on consecutive fast-break layups by Zdru with 4:05 left in the half.
Bunnell swept the season series against Stratford, defeating the Red Devils 56-26 at home on Jan. 3.
Stratford was not at full strength for either game, missing Abby Anka, who was away, in their earlier meeting. On Monday, the Red Devils were without Samantha Perley, one of the team’s top ballhandlers who was sidelined with the flu.
Anka paced Stratford with nine points on Monday.
”Did we miss Sammy tonight, absolutely, just like we missed Abby the first time we played them,” Stratford coach Kelsey Gilmore said. ”Whether we had Sammy or not tonight, we got off to a slow start tonight and unfortunately we just could never quite recover.
“We started moving the ball around much better in the second half, but at that point, it was just a little too late.”
A three-pointer by Alyssa Diaz with 11 seconds left in the period got the Red Devils into double figures and accounted for the halftime score.
The Bulldogs limited Stratford to just four points in the third quarter, extending their margin to 35-15, then opened their biggest lead at 45-19 midway through the final period.
“Our game is defense, doubling, stealing and making layups and getting the threes once we get hot,” Salazar said. “I thought we started a little sluggish but they responded with their defense.”
Stratford, which started three sophomores Monday, is back in action on Thursday at Platt Tech before closing the season with a pair of home games against Brookfield on Friday and Masuk next Tuesday.
“That’s the whole process,” Gilmore said. “That’s what we keep telling the girls, if you keep believing in the process, if you keep working hard, hopefully in two or three years we’ll be on the other end of these games.”
Monday marked the final time the Bulldogs and Red Devils played at Needhan Gym as Stratford with have a new gym ready for next season