East Hampton freshman Liana Salamone looks to attack against Cromwell's Cameryn Hickey during the Bellringers 44-38 victory on Dec. 28
East Hampton girls head coach Shaun Russell was impressed with how his young squad responded during a 44-38 win over Cromwell at EHHS on Dec. 28.
Russell’s team had just been limited to two points in the entire third quarter, digging themselves a 7-point deficit going into the final frame.
That’s when a switch flipped for the home team, particularly Jackie Russell who scored 15 of her game-high 24 points in the final quarter to spark a comeback over their conference rivals.
“In the fourth quarter they saw the ball go through the net and that picked us up. Jackie made some really big shots tonight and I thought the other kids played their roles tonight,” Coach Russell said. “It’s a really good team win and now we can focus on some of the things we need to work on.”
Coach Russell’s starting line-up consists of a freshman, three sophomores, and a junior. The entire roster consists of only two seniors, but that hasn’t stopped the Bellringers from excelling early in the season
The win over Cromwell improved the team to 4-1 and handed the Panthers their first loss of the season.
The evenly-matched teams battled to a 7-7 tie after the first quarter and the home Bellringers took a one-point lead into the halftime break.
Following a stagnant third, the maturation of the team was evident during the fourth quarter turnaround.
“We got good shots in the third quarter. We had five or six wide open looks and just didn’t knock them down. During the quarter break we discussed staying with it and being positive about it because the shots we were getting were the shots we were seeking,” recalled Russell. “In the fourth, we got some transition opportunities and that helps us because we need to find some opportunities to get some easier shots and I thought defensively we were tremendous all night. We rebounded the ball so well, which we need to do to compete with a team like that.”
Jackie Russell provided the offensive fireworks, nailing seven three-point shots, including four during a two-minute stretch early in the fourth. The sophomore’s personal 12-point provided the Bellringers the lead for good at 33-27.
“I feel like the team is blending really well right now and I feel like we do have that chemistry,” added Jackie Russell. “It’s easier to get through these games when we have everyone’s back and everyone’s support.”
Freshman Liana Salamone scored 12 points, including five in the final frame. She hit three clutch free throws after Cromwell cut the deficit to a single point midway through the fourth.
“Liana was very steady tonight. On the court, she has a certain basketball IQ that is probably ahead of what you might see out of a ninth grader,” Coach Russell said. “She had a few possessions where she looked a little rattled, so we took her out and calmed her down and she got right back in there and picked it up. You don’t want to take her aggressiveness away from her because that is what dictates her mindset on both ends of the court.”
Along with Salamone, sophomore’s [Jackie] Russell, Delaney Russell, and Amber Murphy are all starting.
Jackie Russell said the sophomore group knew Salamone would make a big impact this year because they had all played with her in middle school.
Jordan Murphy, a junior who scored seven points, is the team’s oldest starter. She was tasked with guarding Cromwell’s leading scorer, Nevaeh Clarke, who was coming off a season-high 20 points in a win over Pomperaug. Murphy limited Clarke to 11 points and grabbed a pair of key offensive rebounds, which she converted into three points in the final minute of regulation.
Coach Russell praised Murphy’s efforts and the team’s willingness to do the little things, “Coming into the game it was about defense, rebounding, and taking care of the ball, and I thought we did a good job at that and we survived a third quarter that was pretty sluggish.”
The balanced line-up gives the veteran coach plenty of flexibility and upside for this season and beyond.
Jackie Russell believes the team is just starting to figure out how good they can be, “We’ve had a chemistry since we were younger playing together and we tried really hard at practice. We just have to keep working towards playing like we are on a string together.”
Following a long layoff, the Bellringers play the next two away from home, at North Branford (Jan. 7) and at Hale Ray (Jan. 11). Both road games tip at 7 p.m. They return to EHHS for a date with Coginchaug on Friday, Jan. 14 (7 p.m.).
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin