Cromwell boys basketball following a state championship victory at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 19.
After allowing 17 points in the opening quarter, Cromwell boys basketball got defensive as they rallied to defeat Ellington, 53-46, in the Division IV state championship at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 19.
It marked the program’s 10th championship and third state title in the John Pinone-era.
Pinone, the team’s head coach for over two decades, said he liked how his squad responded following the sluggish first quarter in which they scored only eight points.
“Our intensity kicked up to another notch,” stated Pinone. “We got some easy points in translation and got some easy baskets.”
Victor Payne led the comeback, scoring all of his team-high 23 points after the opening quarter.
Payne, the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year, was held scoreless for the first 13 minutes of action before netting five straight points on a pair of free throws and a spinning layup in traffic as Cromwell started the second quarter on a 6-0 scoring run to narrow the deficit to a single point.
Ellington was unable to generate any point over the first seven minutes of the second quarter before scoring four points in the final minute of the quarter to take a 21-16 lead heading into the second half.
Despite trailing at the break, Pinone said he remained calm and wasn’t concerned.
“We were down nine at the Shoreline Championship and we’ve been down in other games too.” stated Pinone. “We just needed to make some adjustments and do a better job on offense.”
A baseline three-pointer from Luge Gagnon temporarily gave Cromwell the lead in the third quarter and then the Panthers used a 10-point run later in the quarter to take the lead for good.
Payne scored eight points during the third-quarter spurt, hitting 8 of 12 shots total in the game as Cromwell shot 58% from the field as a team.
But the comeback victory was ultimately decided on the defensive end.
“Defense is a mindset, we talk about it every huddle,” stated Pinone, whose team held 21 of 27 opponents under 50 points this winter.
Pinone also credited junior Keanu Gomez for his defense on Ellington’s quick guard Darren Zahner. Zahner scored seven in the opening eight
minutes, but Gomez helped limit him to two points the rest of the way.
Captain Cody Murphy led Ellington with 23 points in the loss.
Senior guard Jake Salafia sparked Cromwell on both ends of the court in the second half rally, scoring nine of his 11 points, six coming on a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays.
Salafia said the slow start didn’t worry the team.
“We just had to pick up the intensity,” stated Salafia. “We knew we were the better team and we had to believe it and play like it too.”
Despite being the top-ranked going into the Division IV state tourney, Salafia added the team felt they were being underestimated.
“We had a lot of doubters, so to prove them wrong feels great,” stated Salafia.
Pinone added that because of those doubters his team had a “chip on their shoulder” going into the state tournament and was on a mission to prove that the Shoreline Conference (SLC) was one of the premiere conferences in the state
After an 18-2 regular season, the Panthers won the SLC by rallying to defeated Portland in the conference championship game and then eliminated Weston, Windham, and Griswold in the state tourney to reach the state title game.
Pinone said he thought it was the toughest road for any of his three championship teams.
“I think we earned this one; we beat some good teams along the way,” added Pinone.
Including the postseason, the Panthers won 25 of 27 games this winter, winning both the SLC and state championship in the same season for the first time since 2009.
Celebrating together as champions on the floor at the Mohegan Sun Arena was the last dance for six seniors at Cromwell.
Gagnon, Salafia (all-conference), Tyler Daniele (all-conference), Jack Corona, Jovan Marrero, and Logan Mure left a mark at CHS, bookending their high school careers with conference championships and adding another state championship banner to the “Home of the Champions.”
Longtime head coach John Pinone holds up the Panthers championship plaque following the team’s state championship victory.
Portland senior Harrison Collins brings the ball up court as the Highlanders student section behind him cheers on the team on March 10 at PHS. Collins scored 22 points as Portland defeated Wheeler to advance to the state semifinals.
Portland High School basketball maestro Harrison Collins put on a show during the team’s final home game, slicing and dicing his way through defenders as the Highlanders defeated Wheeler 60-42 in the quarterfinals of the Division V state tournament on March 10.
Collins scored a game-high 22 points and dished out eight assists as the No. 4 seed Highlanders eliminated the No. 5 seed Lions to advance to the state semifinals.
“We were really amped up,” said Collins, who is one of six seniors. “We just had to stay together; we knew it was going to be a rowdy environment.”
Although the Highlanders had the advantage of playing at home, the gym at PHS was packed with Wheeler fans that made the long trip from North Stonington to see a potential upset.
But it didn’t take long for the visitors to find out that an upset was not in the making.
Behind Collins and a terrific supporting cast, the Highlanders controlled the tempo and never trailed in the game.
Head coach David Bradbury said it’s the best his team executed on the court this season.
“It’s great when you’re playing really well at the right time,” added Bradbury. “I talk to the boys about reaching that peak at the right time and we’ve hit our stride at the right time.”
Junior Joe Rusczyk scored the game’s first points when he banked in a shot off glass and—after Wheelers’ Deondre Bransford tied it with a layup—Collins scored five straight points to provide Portland the lead for good.
Similar to Portland’s style, Wheeler plays at a high-tempo, but they couldn’t match the Highlanders athleticism. They also had no answer for Collins, switching from a man defense to a zone defense in the second quarter in an attempt to get the ball out of Collins’ hands.
The result was a shooting exhibition from senior Ryan Kerr, who canned a pair of three-pointers on passes from Collins. Kerr scored eight of his 15 points in the second quarter.
“We knew they wanted to play man, but we know we have the size and skill to beat guys in man-to-man,” added Bradbury, who credited Wheeler head coach Stephen Bailey for mixing in multiple defenses. “He made good adjustments, but our guys just really executed.”
It was more of the same in the second half as Collins drained a straight away three-pointer in the first minute of the third quarter, promoting a 14-3 scoring run.
Rusczyk scored five straight points during the third quarter surge, converting a three-point play and then stealing a pass in the open court before making a layup.
By the four minute mark of the third quarter, the Highlanders had turned a 10-point halftime lead into an insurmountable 21-point advantage.
Second-chance points also helped the Highlanders.
Senior captain Ben Fecteau gobbled up a dozen rebounds, many on the offensive end. Fecteau put the finishing touches on the game when he drove baseline and converted a traditional three-point play by powering his way through a pair of defenders for a bucket and hitting the ensuing free throw midway through the final frame.
Rusczyk finished with nine points, Fecteau scored seven, and senior Austin Vess added six points—all in the second half.
Bradbury was impressed with his team’s ability to take Wheeler’s best punch and stay composed, something he said the team struggled with a season ago.
“We did a good job defensively with our switches and with our help defense.” added Bradbury. “In the first quarter [Wheeler] hit some tough shots and I thought we didn’t get out in transition as much as we wanted to. There were a lot of
50/50 balls that we may not have gotten in the first half, but we did a great job at tightening that up in the second half.”
Collins agreed that it was the team’s relentless defense that put the game to rest.
“Everyone was playing their role well and we worked on helping,” stated Collins. “Everyone played great team defense. That is what won it for us.”
Collins added that the team leaned on the experience from a season ago when they won a pair of state tournament games before being eliminated in the quarterfinals round at Windham.
The goal this season was to assure home playoff games and, after finishing the regular season with 15 wins this winter, the Highlanders earned a first round bye in the state tourney before ousting Wolcott 67-46 at PHS In the second round behind 27 points from Rusczyk.
The home win over Wheeler put the finishing touches on a historic home schedule in which the Highlanders won 13 of 14 games at PHS this winter.
East Hampton’s Jackie Russell is defended by Coginchaug’s Chloe Shafir as senior captain Jordan Murphy comes over to set a screen during the Bellringers 44-24 state semifinal victory on March 13.
East Hampton girls basketball soundly defeated Coginchaug 44-24 in the Class M semifinals at Morgan High School on Monday, earning a trip to Mohegan Sun Arena for this weekend’s state championship game.
It will be the program’s first state championship appearance since 1980.
In the semifinals triumph, the Bellringers used an efficient offense and smothering defense to overwhelm the Durham-based Blue Devils from the opening tip.
Sophomore Liana Salamone led the offense with 19 points, while junior Jackie Russell added 12 and sparked the team on the defensive end by taking a pair of charges in the first quarter.
“This time of year, you have to hang your hat on defense,” said East Hampton head coach Shaun Russell. “You play in different venues and there are different shooting backgrounds, so you’re not always going to shoot well or you may not get good shots because you are playing teams that can guard.”
Jackie Russell, who scored all of her points beyond the arc, drained a high-arching three-pointer on the team’s first trip down the court.
After Coginchaug’s Katie Farr tied the game at three, Russell canned another triple to give the Bellringers the lead for good. She also prompted a 11-0 scoring run in the second quarter by hitting back-to-back treys from the left and right wings.
The opposing teams entered the semifinal round very familiar with each other because both play in the Shoreline Conference (SLC) and had already played twice this season, once during the regular season and once in the SLC tournament semifinals.
The Bellringers had won the previous two games by an average of 20 points per game, yet East Hampton emphasized the importance of not taking a conference rival lightly.
“We couldn’t underestimate them. We knew they could play just as well,” said Jackie Russell “They had seven seniors, so we knew they would give it all they have and we just had to come prepared.”
It was also the third time this winter that the Bellringers were playing at Morgan High School, giving the team added comfortability at the neutral site.
Salamone put the game out of reach in the third, scoring seven points as East Hampton upped the lead to 24 points going into the final quarter.
Sophomore Olivia DeMartino added six points and four steals in the victory.
Shaun Russell said DeMartino’s versatility gives the team a lot of flexibility on both ends of the court, adding that DeMartino, junior Delaney Russell, and senior captain Jordan Murphy can all guard multiple positions on the defensive end.
“Defensively with that group it allows us flexibility to do some different things,” added the longtime coach. “We can guard just about anybody and make the other team do things they don’t want to do.”
The team’s defensive tenacity was on full display during the second and third quarters, holding Coginchaug to a mere eight points over the 16-minute stretch.
After East Hampton secured a spot in the state championship game, they watched two other SLC rivals battle in the second half of the semifinals back-to-back to see who their opponent would be.
Valley Regional defeated Cromwell, 56-51, to reach the title game and set up a third meeting with the Bellringers.
East Hampton defeated Valley Regional in both contests this season, winning easily at Deep River in December and then having to rally to earn a victory at EHHS in February.
Outside of the two losses to the Bellringers, the Warriors of Valley Regional won 17 of 18 games in the regular season. They have an experienced roster that features first-team all-conference seniors Abby Bradbury and Lily Grow, who have combined to average nearly 30 points per game this season.
East Hampton’s resume is even more impressive. Entering the championship game, the Bellringers have won 27 of 28 games this year, including the postseason.
Shaun Russell expressed that he wanted his team to soak up the semifinals victory before turning the page to the title tilt,
saying, ““Enjoyment and desire to play is also what fuels the energy to play and intensity.”
“We have to strike that balance of preparing for a familiar opponent and at the same time still improve and find those areas of the game that can help us,” he added.
With the semifinals triumph now in the rear view mirror, there’s just one game left for all the marbles.
Jackie Russell said the trip to Mohegan “means everything”, adding, “we just have to have a couple of really good days of practice and get ready.”
Check ciacsports.com for a complete list of dates and time for this weekend’s state basketball championship games.
Nor’easters Storm to State Semis
Playing on the road against a conference rival, Newington girls’ basketball rose to the occasion and beat Glastonbury 55-39 in the quarterfinals of the Class LL state tournament at Glastonbury High School on March 8.
Sophomore sensations Bela Cucuta (18), Selah Prignano (18), and Kendall Miller (12) led the offensive charge, combining to score over 81% of the team’s points.
After the home Guardians had whittled a double-digit lead down to a single point, the Nor’easters defense began to swarm in the second half, allowing only 11 points total over the final 16 minutes.
“At this point in the season, defense is going to win basketball games,” stated NHS head coach Marc Tancredi. “I know we can score the ball, we just need to get stops and that’s what it came down to. “
A three-pointer from Cucuta put the No. 5-seed Nor’easters up 21-10 within the first minute of the second quarter and it looked like Newington would run away with the game.
But the No. 4-seed Guardians, who won 17 of 20 regular season games, were not about to go quietly into the night and went on a 20-8 run to narrow the deficit to 31-30 in the early stages of the third quarter.
Sophomore Maddy Handrahan led the Guardians’ rally, scoring seven of her team-high 17 points during the scoring run.
Tancredi said he emphasizes the basics to his team during Glastonbury’s surge.
“Just be great at the simple plays, the 50/50 plays,” Tancredi preached to his team in an effort to swing the momentum. “Basketball is not a hard game, do the simple things great and we’ll put ourselves in the position because we have players that are talented that can score. If we can dominate those little aspects of the game we will put ourselves in that position.”
Newington responded with a 6-point run, capped by another triple from Cucuta.
Cucuta, the team’s leading scorer this year, also starred on the defensive end, racking up a career-high six blocks.
“It’s about defensively getting stops and consecutive stops, and I thought we did a much better job in the second half at building that lead,” added Tancredi.
Later in the third, Miller nailed a three-pointer to prompt a 9-0 run to put the game out of reach. Miller scored seven of the nine points during the run.
“She is our unsung hero; she does all the dirty work,” Tancredi said of Miller, who added 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
Junior captain Ella Stair added seven points in the victory, which advanced the team to the state semifinals for the second straight season.
Rocky Hill’s Dom Violette celebrates a goal during the Terriers upset win over New Milford in the first round of the state tournament on March 6. Photo credit – Brian Beausoleil Photography.
After starting the season with four straight losses, the Rocky Hill co-op ice hockey team closed the 2022-2023 campaign with a bang by upsetting New Milford 3-0 in the opening round of the Division III state tourney and then knocking off Tri-Town (6-1) in the quarterfinals round.
The multiple town team—featuring players from Rocky Hill, Middletown, Plainville, Haddam-Killingworth, Bristol, and Vinal Tech—entered the state tournament as a No. 15-seed following a 7-13 regular season and pulled the biggest upset in hockey this season, eliminating the No. 2-seed of New Milford, who won 17 of 20 games in the regular season.
“The boys did a nice job at preparing themselves both physically and mentally, and then they just executed,” Rocky Hill head coach Dave Dubos recalled. “They were confident and focused on what we needed to do.”
Rocky Hill’s tourney win was shocking on many levels. Along with a 15-seed eliminating a 2-seed in the state tournament for only the second time since 2008, they also avenged a 5-0 loss to New Milford on Dec. 28.
At the time, the December loss at New Milford dropped the Terriers to 0-4.
Despite the discrepancy in records and the early-season shutout loss, the Terriers felt like they were equals heading into the tourney bout.
“I felt like we were going to win; I believed that we would come out on top,” recalled Dubos. “We knew we could compete with them and match them, and that’s what we went out and did.”
Rocky Hill flipped the script in the tourney rematch as goalie Kyle Kundrath (Vinal Tech) put in a masterful performance in the opening round win, shutting out a New Milford team that was averaging nearly seven goals per contest in their previous 10 games—all wins.
Dubos praised Kundrath for his dedication, saying he is one of the first players at the rink every day.
“He’s an amazing teammate and outstanding goalie,” added Dubos. “To shutout a team like that is really commendable.”
Tyler Poulin (Rocky Hill), Dom Violette (Rocky Hill), and Olaf Talar (Plainville) netted the goals for the Terriers.
It was an extra special night for Poulin, who was coming back from a broken collarbone he suffered in the team’s second scrimmage this winter.
Because of the time table for recovering from the injury, the only way Poulin would play again is if the team made the state tournament.
After losing 11 of their first 13 games this season, the Terriers ended the season by winning five of seven, including four of their final five games.
The late-season push earned the battle-tested Terriers a spot in the tourney and allowed Poulin to finish his senior season on the ice.
“We have a lot of ‘whys’ and getting Tyler back on the ice and making states was one of them,” said Dubos. “Having him back has been huge. That has helped us tremendously with our confidence.”
In the quarterfinals win over Tri-Town, the offense ignited for six goals, the team’s second most in a game this winter.
Talar netted two goals, while Poulin, Violette, Cole Bates (Rocky Hill), and Zachary Harmon (Bristol) also scored.
Kundrath was again stellar between the pipes.
Captaining the team on the ice through the memorable season are Poulin, Violette, and Tanner Phillips (Middletown).
Dubos said his captains have been “tremendous” with helping mesh all the pieces together by organizing workouts in the offseason and calling the trio “an extension of the coaching staff.”
“All three of them have been here since the birth of this program three years ago. They live and breathe our values,” added Dubos. “These guys have set the expectations high and held everyone accountable.”
This is the third season for the local co-op in Rocky Hill. They were previously part of Wethersfield co-op before the Eagles turned into a town-only program prior to the 2020-2021 season.
Following last season’s 6-13-1 finish, the Terriers reapplied for the co-op and added the Bristol schools and Vinal Tech in the offseason, welcoming in more players and more moving parts.
12 of the 22 players this year had never played together and the early–season struggles reflected a growing period.
Dubos said it took a while to find the right chemistry but the commitment was there from day one.
The team practices in the wee hours of the morning, getting to the rink around 4:15 a.m. and starting practice at 5 a.m.
“It’s 22 guys that didn’t know each other coming together like brothers, creating a family. In three months they did that and that is pretty powerful,” stated Dubos.
Along with winning a pair of memorable state tournament games, the Terriers also closed the regular season with a 5-0 win over Northeastern as the team played their Cancer Awareness Charity Game, collecting donations for a good cause and honoring families that have lost loved ones.
Dubos said the charity game was a reflection of the player’s willingness to play for a cause greater than hockey, which they have done all season.
“They played selflessly and they are committed to each other and committed to the program,” added Dubos. “They are giving us everything they have.”
GHS Ice Hockey Eyes Future
Despite 75% of the team’s roster being underclassmen, Glastonbury High School ice hockey made the state tournament after a strong finish to the regular season.
The Guardians blanked South Windsor, 2-0, in the regular season finale on Feb. 25 to wrap up a seven-win campaign.
Head coach Ken Barse called the win over the Bobcats of South Windsor the team’s most complete performance of the season.
“I saw a 45-minute effort,” recalled Barse, praising the efforts of goalie Patrick Sullivan and standout defensemen Drew Hazard and Sean Huempfner.
Sullivan made 22 saves, registering his second shutout of the season despite playing with a broken thumb for the last dozen games of the regular season.
Barse said Sullivan, a sophomore who has started every game the last two years, has become the foundation of the team.
Ben Howey and Jack Christina provided the offense in the team’s final win, each finding the back of the net.
The Guardians—who entered the state tourney as the No. 15-seed––had their season come to a close in the first round of the Division II tournament, falling to 2nd seed Woodstock on March 7.
It was the final game for Hazard, Howey, and Sean Sullivan—the team’s three seniors.
Barse said the seniors had to take on more responsibility this year because of how young the rest of the roster was.
Hazard was named team’s Hobey Baker Award winner—given to the team’s most outstanding player. Barse called Hazard one of the smartest players he’s ever coached.
Howey was in his first year playing with the Guardians, previously playing club hockey before finishing out his high school hockey career at GHS, and Barse said that he provided a missing element this winter.
“Ben brought that edge to the hockey team that we have been missing for years. He’s always on the edge of a penalty, but his heart and energy is unquestionable,” added Barse. “He’s an electrifying player that sparked a lot of fire.”
Because of the lack of experience, Barse was forced to play several young players this winter.
Many of his players, including starters, were learning on the fly and had to suffer through several setbacks during games.
“I look down the bench and I see how young these guys are. But now they are so battle tested,” added Barse. “They have been put in situations that most freshmen and sophomores don’t get put into. It is very promising for the next couple of years.”
Along with many positive moments, like the win over South Windsor and a tie with powerhouse Simsbury, the team suffered some heartbreaking losses, most notably a pair of one-goal losses to Farmington and Newington in February.
In the loss to Newington, the Nor’easters scored two late goals, including a controversial game-winner in the closing seconds to win 5-4
Barse called the last-second loss the most disappointing in his 27 years on the bench.
He added that those are the types of growing pains that a young roster has to endure, saying the losses are “a sign of a young hockey team.”
The cupboard should be full next season with 18 of 21 players returning.
Leading point scorer Michael Rodriguez will return to lead the offensive, while Huempfner, who Barse called a “rock” and a “warrior”, will head the defense.
Ben Jean, who Barse described as “gritty” and “dependable”, is also returning along with Liam Resto, who starred as a freshman before breaking his collarbone in the Newington game.
“Right now we’re kids without beards and we’re playing kids with beards,” stated Barse. “I’m hoping two years from now I’ll see some full beards on some of our kids.”
The 7th grade Glastonbury boys travel basketball team celebrates after finishing an undefeated season on March 5. Picture (front row) from left; L.J. Bigliazzi, Jesse Carabase, Matt Roby, Noah Young, Aiden Patel; (back Row) assistant coach Justin DeLisa, assistant coach Brendan Ristaino, Jake DeLisa, head coach Dee Patel, Noah Wallace, Teddy Ristaino. (Hidden in back row) Dacio Nigam / (not pictured) Armaan Garbera.
The 7th grade Glastonbury boys travel basketball team, a part of the Glastonbury Basketball Association (GBA), completed an undefeated season by winning the North Central Connecticut Conference (NCC) 7th grade championship, polishing off a
19-0 season with a 35-26 victory over Simsbury in the title game on March 5.
It ended a remarkable run for the local squad featuring 10 players who hadn’t played together prior to the season.
Head coach Dee Patel said it took a few games for the team to find their footing, but once they did he knew they had something special brewing.
“It takes a lot of time to get that cohesiveness with a team, but by the third or fourth game it just clicked,” recalled Patel.
“They were a group of boys that were really selfless and they all had the same goal of wanting to win basketball games.”
And winning they did—convincingly.
16 of the 19 wins were by 10 or more points and they outscored the opposition by a total of 352 points (18.5 points per game).
With each passing victory, the visions of an undefeated season became clearer.
Patel said the players were very much aware of the undefeated season, yet remained focused on the next opponent.
“What we talked about in our overall discussion was that no one puts more pressure on us than we do,” added Patel, who sensed a more confident group as the season aged.
“Over time they started to develop that relationship and they started to know where each other were on the floor and they made that extra pass,” he added. “They all knew their roles. No one tried to go beyond the scope of what we were trying to do and that made them super special.”
The culmination was the championship victory over Simsbury.
Both teams displayed stout defensives, but ultimately Glastonbury’s teamwork and tenacity prevailed, with all 10 players contributing to the win.
Shooting guard Aiden Patel led the team with 10 points and center Teddy Ristaino had his best game of the season, scoring six points and hauling down several rebounds.
Armaan Garbera continued to demonstrate his athleticism on both sides of the ball, leading the defensive charge by holding Simsbury’s primary scorer in check and causing multiple turnovers throughout the game, and Jesse Carabase also starred on the defensive end.
Guards L.J. Bigliazzi, Matthew Roby, and Dacio Nigam kept a high tempo, while big men Jake DeLisa, Noah Young, and Noah Wallace countered the oversized front-court of Simsbury.
Aiden Patel and Garbera were the leaders of the court, being named team captains midway through the season for their contributions.
“A lot of what they did on the floor, it was never about scoring points. It was about how they find that right player on the floor, how do I make a difference on defense,” Dee Patel said of his captains. “They did all those little things that go unnoticed.”
Dee Patel, who coached the team with assistants Justin DeLisa and Brendan Ristaino said the undefeated championship run is something he will not forget.
“They were a very special group of boys,” said the proud coach. “I can’t stop smiling when I think about it. It was such an incredible journey.”
Glastonbury junior captain Connor O’Leary is defended by Trumbull’s Sean Racette in the 4th quarters on last week at GHS. The Guardians would lose the game in overtime, eliminating them from the state tournament.
The boys basketball team at Glastonbury High School played three solid quarters at GHS and then ran out of gas in the Division II state tournament, losing 59-55 in overtime to Trumbull on March 7.
Leading 29-28 at the half, Glastonbury came out of the halftime locker room on a mission and scored six of the first nine points of the second half.
Junior captain Connor O’Leary scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter as the Guardians took a 43-38 advantage into the fourth.
Then the well dried up as Glastonbury managed only two points over the final eight minutes of regulation.
O’Leary had a chance to give Glastonbury the lead in the closing seconds of regulation but his shot rimmed in-and-out before Trumbull’s Ryan Johnston was just off the mark on a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer.
After Brandon Fowler providing the visiting Eagles a 47-45 advantage in overtime, O’Leary tied it with a pull-up jumper, but a 7-0 scoring run by Trumbull secured the lead for good in the extra session.
Johnston led Trumbull with 17 points, while Fowler and Sean Racette each added 13.
Glastonbury sophomore David Smith scored 16 points and grabbed a team-high six rebounds in the loss.
“We missed shots,” said GHS head coach Jim Vaughan, whose team made only three shots in the fourth quarter and overtime. “We got tired and we started to miss.”
Vaughan added that the team missed Adam Molusis, who was the team’s point guard and has been sidelined since February.
Molusis was one of five seniors on Vaughan’s roster this year, joining Jordyn Sams, Owen Peterson, Gage Haines, Brendan Hutt as players who will be graduating this spring.
Sams, a team captain, allowed the Guardians to take control of the game in the second quarter by scoring eight straight points, including back-to-back three-pointers. He was the ultimate utility player this winter, starring on defense and finishing the tourney game with five rebounds, three assists, and a pair of steals before fouling out in overtime.
Despite battling a slew of injuries the last two seasons, Vaughan said his handful of seniors were instrumental in evaluating the program back to pre-pandemic levels.
“They played hard and they are a great group. I will miss them,” added Vaughan. “They got us back to where we should be. We had a long year last year because of injuries, but we are back to where we need to be.”
The team won 14 of 20 games in the regular season, winning the first four games to start the season and going on a six-game winning streak during February.
Vaughan won his 300th career game during February’s win-streak when the team defeated E.O. Smith on Valentine’s Day.
“If we were whole I thought we would have a real good chance to win a bunch of games in this tournament, but every game we are trying to piece it together who is going to handle the ball and who is going to do what,” reflected Vaughan.
The team’s 15 total wins was the most the team has had since the 2019-2020 season. They should be strong again next season with the return of the team’s two leading scorers in O’Leary and Smith.
East Hampton team captains Brady Lynch (left) and Nate Ireland discuss strategy coming out of a timeout during the Bellringers state tournament loss to Wolcott on March 6. The loss ended the season for East Hampton, who won double digit games for the second straight season under head coach John Antolini.
East Hampton High School boys basketball team fell to Wolcott, 65-56, in the first round of the Division V state tournament on Monday at EHHS, ending a year of growth for the young Bellringers.
“We showed a lot of energy on defense, but we just had too many breakdowns,” second-year head coach John Antolini said following the elimination loss. “They were a little quicker than us and when they made their runs we had some breakdowns and offensively we just didn’t have it tonight. It took us time to adjust to their defensive pressure.”
East Hampton sophomore Brady Lynch scored a game-high 21 points, yet the deep rotation of the visiting Eagles was too much for the scrappy Bellringers to overcome.
Wolcott’s high-octane approach overwhelmed East Hampton in the first few minutes of the game, allowing the Eagles to jump out to a 6-0 lead.
Antolini said his team looked a little “nervous” from the opening tip, but credited his team for settling in after the unsettling start.
Lynch had consecutive contested layups and Austin Cuthbertson drained a jumper to counter Wolcott’s six-point run.
The teams continued to trade buckets throughout a physical first quarter, which ended in a 16-16 tie.
Wolcott again started quickly in the second quarter, scoring the first eight points and added another scoring spurt to start the third quarter, upping the advantage to 36-25 in the first few minutes of the second half.
But as they have done all year, the Bellringers battled back as they attempted to save their season.
Sophomore Jadin Sawyer ignited a third-quarter run with consecutive baskets on offense and a pair of blocks on defense. Cuthbertson then drained a three-pointer to pull the Bellringers with 36-34 at the 2:50 mark of the third.
After Wolcott built the lead back up to seven points, Sawyer sank a deep three-pointer to bring the Bellringers within 43-39. Sawyer scored nine points, all in the second half.
Antolini said that Sawyer has shown a lot of growth as a sophomore, playing a major role in key games this winter.
“Offensively he has been a big asset,” added Antolini. “He has developed into a great player and now he just has to apply that in all three phases.”
East Hampton remained within striking distance throughout the third quarter, but ultimately Wolcott had just too much firepower.
The Eagles ended any chance of a comeback with an 8-0 scoring run to start the final quarter, increasing the lead to 51-39.
Quinten Outlaw (18), Terrance Stevens (17), and Joe Ferrucci (13) led a balanced scoring attack for Wolcott.
Antolini called his team “young and learning.”
“We haven’t gotten over the hump in a few of these 50/50 games,” added Antolini. “We fought hard to come back, but we were very much out-of-sync tonight and we just didn’t have enough in us.”
The loss ended Antolini’s second year on the Bellringers bench.
East Hampton won 12 of 20 regular season games in Antolini’s first year running the program and, despite losing eight sensors to graduation, the team again won double digit (10) games this year.
The loss to Wolcott was the final game for seniors Nate Ireland and Nick Chunko.
Ireland averaged a double-double (scoring over 10 points and grabbing over 10 rebounds per game) and did a lot of the dirty work down low.
Chunko spent a majority of the season as the team’s sparkplug off the bench before earning his way into the starting lineup with a strong finish this winter.
“Their leadership has been amazing,” Antolini said of his departing seniors. “They are going to be missed and they taught a lot of these young guys how to play the right way.”
Lynch, who averaged over 20 points per game and was named to the All-Shoreline Conference (SLC) first team, will lead a strong nucleus coming back next season.
Following the conclusion of his second season in East Hampton, Antolini is optimistic that the building blocks are in place for a fruitful future.
“They showed a lot of energy, they showed a lot of heart and hopefully they are helping me build a culture for years to come,” said Antolini, who was pleased to see several of the players who graduated a season ago supporting the team from the stands. “These guys fought hard all year and it’s unfortunate we didn’t come out on the right end, but we had a great year.”
RHAM’s 4x800 relay team won a state championship and broke the school-record this winter. Student athletes from the left; Cam Rhodes, Konrad Jandzinski, Josh Gauthier, and Sam Fortin are flanked by coaches Mark Logans and Olivia Mondo.
After RHAM’s 4x800 relay team of Sam Fortin, Josh Gauthier, Konrad Jandzinski, and Cam Rhodes won a Class M state title the only left to do before celebrating was to throw up.
Three of the members of relay team had run to exhaustion, causing Gauthier, Jandzinski, and Rhodes to each take turns vomiting into a nearby trash can.
The fun-loving trio joked with Fortin that he “didn’t run hard enough” — sparing him a visit to the receptacle.
Next was the celebration.
Along with winning the state title, the four set a new school-record with a time of 8:19.58 to edge runner-up Ledyard (8:21.75) at the Floyd Athletic Center in New Haven on Feb. 11.
It was the third time the team broke the school’s 4x8 record this season, first breaking it at the East Coast Invitational (8:33.25) on January 14 and then re-breaking it at the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) with a time of 8:25.93 as the relay team captured a conference championship on Jan. 28.
With their time at the state meet, the team had put the original record in the dust, smashing the previous mark of 8:43.40 set a season ago.
“Our initial plan was to break the record and we weren’t sure if we could do it, but we demolished it every single time and we just kept going,” recalled Rhodes, who added the success can be linked back to chemistry. “We are all really good friends; we trust each other to do what we are supposed to do.”
Jandzinski added the team was confident heading into the state finals, adding, “We knew it would be close, but we were sure that we had it in us. We knew if we ran a good race that we would be able to win, and we did it.”
Prior to the season, winning a state title wasn’t really on the foursome’s radar because never ran a relay together.
Now, three months later, they stood atop of the podium at the class meet and etched their names in the RHAM record books.
“When we came into the season we didn’t really expect any of it, so it kind of came out of nowhere,” recalled Fortin. “All of it is very exciting.”
Gauthier added that the four were following the lead of RHAM’s ultimate record-breaker, Liam Calhoun, who shattered multiple running marks prior to graduation last spring.
“We had a terrific leader the previous year,” Gauthier said of Calhoun, who is now running for Wesleyan University. “He achieved a lot and we wanted to follow in his footsteps, so we wanted to work hard and so we could get the state title.”
The four agreed that the key to any successful relay team is building a rapport, along with each member knowing their role.
Fortin runs the first leg of the relay and sets the stage, saying, “I just want to get out hard and get us a lead and set a good pace for the rest of the race.”
In any relay the first exchange is crucial and the exchange between Fortin and Gauthier was on-point at the state meet.
“Sam does a great job,” said Gauthier, whose job is to maintain the pace as the second leg. “I always try to stay with the person in front of me and keep the people behind me. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s the goal.”
When Jandzinski took the baton for the third leg, his goal was to keep the momentum going, saying, “I was trying to keep us close and make sure Cam has a good chance at finishing and closing.”
Once Rhodes got his turn, the team was in second place, but the speedster did what he does best on the final leg.
“My teammates know I have a good finishing kick, so my mindset is to keep with those people in front of me and find that good opportunity to kick,” recalled Rhodes, who blazed into first place and never looked back.
Once the team had hurled and hugged, they realized they had set a new standard of excellence for future relay teams at RHAM to shoot for.
They had also qualified for the State Open and would eventually qualify for the Nike Indoor Nationals, which will take place in The Armory in New York City from March 10-12.
It will mark the first time that any of the four will compete on a national level.
“Competing at state meets is really challenging, but this is going to be another level of competition,” stated Gauthier. “Hopefully we can beat the record (again) if things go to plan. I think it will be a good experience just to see what a national meet is like.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin