Panthers Edged in East Hampton
Kelly Maher’s Cromwell Panthers played with their usual grit and determination for a majority of their game at East Hampton, but came up a few points short, losing 35-31 to the Bellringers last Tuesday night.
“I think we were out of sync tonight, they weren’t moving well without the ball,” Maher said following the team’s third loss of the season, “They just weren’t in it tonight, the energy wasn’t there. We started off strong and we just got away from it.”
Most of the game was dominated by defense, which is normally favors the defensive-minded Panthers, however East Hampton plays with a similar philosophy and held the defending state champs to a season-low in points.
Cromwell jumped out to an early lead on a pair of rebound-putbacks from Nikki Bitinaitis and Geanna Williams, but the offense stalled and they were outscored 18-8 for the duration of the half.
From the opening tip until the final buzzer, Gyanna Russell did most of the offensive damage for the Bellringers, scoring 11 over the first 16 minutes. The all-state senior finished the game with 25 points, including 14 of the East Hampton’s 15 points in the second half.
“When we played tight defense and we did what we wanted, it created turnovers. But we have to be consistent for 32 minutes. It can’t be for just a couple of minutes and then take possessions off,” added Maher, “It’s got to be consistent the whole way through and that’s what we got to get better at.”
Bitinaitis led the Panthers in scoring with 10 points and was tasked with the tough assignment of checking Russell for most of the game. The senior point guard played the entire game and also led the team with seven rebounds and fours assists.
The do-it-all senior is the only remaining starter from last season’s Class M championship team.
The departure of Mya Villard, Emma Belcourt, Araya Lessard, and Alyssa Wright has left a leadership void that Bitinaitis is doing her best to fill.
“Right now she’s taken on more of it,” Maher said of Bitinaitis’ expanded role, “Before she could divvy it up a little bit, but now she’s trying to direct people where to go and help them improve their game. We’re asking her to do a lot more, so she’s taking a lot more of the pressure on herself.”
Late in the third quarter, Bitinaitis sparked a 9-0 run when she scored three straight, including a running bank shot in the closing seconds of the quarter.
Jenna Serrantino and freshman Vanessa Stolstajner hit consecutive three-pointers to open the fourth, giving Cromwell a 28-27 advantage. It was the team’s first and only lead since it was 4-2 in the opening minutes of the game.
As she had done all night, Russell took control and regained the lead for the home team when she stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup. It would prove to be the last lead change of the night.
Trailing 33-31, Cromwell had one final chance to tie or take the lead but Serrantino missed a potential game-tying layup in the closing seconds and Russell cemented the game with two free throws.
Despite the miss, Serrantino has made a giant leap in production from a year ago when she was a sophomore. She scored five points, all in the second half, and is averaging 10 points per game this season, including a season-high 17-point outing in a loss to Pomperaug and a 16 point night in a win over Old Lyme.
“She does anything that we ask her to. If we need someone to jump in and cause a turnover, Jenna will do that,” Maher said of her junior guard, “She gives us energy on offense and she’s tough defensively because she’s pretty quick. She can guard a lot of people and she’s done a good job at giving us what we needed the last couple of games.”
Coming into the contest, Cromwell had won six straight games and was averaging nearly 62 points per game over that span.
Maher credited good ball movement and defensive pressure for the win streak, but the game against East Hampton was a reminder that the team is still a work in progress.
“First we have to get better defensively because we’re missing assignments and we’re getting caught watching the ball,” added the veteran coach, “On offense we have to move better without the ball and set better screens to get open.”
The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak for East Hampton against the Panthers and improved to the team to 11-1. Entering the week they are one of only three teams in Class S with a single loss. Russell’s experience and terrific overall play gives the team a shot to be contenders once the state tournament begins.
Maher and her girls got back to their winning ways at the end of last week, defeating Creed (77-23) on Friday and Westbrook (77-46) on Saturday. The two home victories improved the team to 11-3 entering the week.
They have a handful of regular season games and the Shoreline Conference tournament remaining before starting their defense of the Class M championship in late February.
Next up is a home game against Shoreline rival Old Saybrook this Friday, Jan 27th. The conference game tips at 7 p.m. at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.
Local Basketball Action
Middletown Sweeps Wethersfield and Rocky Hill
The Blue Dragons swept their home and away basketball games against the Eagles last Wednesday night. The boys won 60-45 at MHS behind 21 points from DeAaron Lawrence and 12 more from Jordan Council. The girls secured a 66-53 road victory at WHS thanks to 18 points from Brielle Wilborn and 16 more from Jennifer Barbour.
On Friday, Middletown also took down Rocky Hill. The boys won 78-56 at RHHS behind 26 more points from Lawrence and 13 from Ahmod Privott. Alex Sikorski led Rocky Hill with 25 points in the loss. The girls won 66-53 at MHS and had five players score in double figures. Wilborn again led the Blue Dragons with 20 points. In defeat, Melanie Holmes and Nikki Lukens each had 14 points for the Terriers.
Newington and Wethersfield Split on the Hardwood
The Indians and the Eagles split their home games last Friday night. The Newington boys won 64-47 at NHS behind 26 points and 11 rebound from Matt McKinnon. Jared Simmons added 23 points in the team’s fifth straight victory. The Wethersfield girls won 38-29 at WHS, snapping a four game losing streak.
Leave a Reply.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin