East Hampton senior Madison Yorker boxes out Bacon Academy senior Emma Mancuso during the Class M semifinals at Plainville High School. The Bellringers fell to the Bobcats 30-26.
East Hampton girls’ basketball was eliminated by Bacon Academy in the semifinals of the Class M state tournament at Plainville High School on March 14.
The 30-26 loss ended a remarkable year for the Bellringers, who finished the regular season 18-2 and won a third consecutive Shoreline Conference (SLC) championship with a victory over Valley Regional on Feb. 26.
A triumph in the semifinals would have sent East Hampton to their first state championship game since 1985.
For head coach Shaun Russell, the elimination loss wasn’t because of a lack of effort.
“The kids played their hearts out like they did all season long, but the bottom line is you are not going to win a state semifinals by scoring 26 points,” said Russell. “Congrats to Bacon, they are a solid team with veteran players,”
East Hampton controlled the tempo for a majority of the first half, using precision ball movement to counter Bacon’s trapping zone. Often the ball would be passed between two or three players without a single dribble.
The result was a 16-11 halftime lead. Freshman Liana Salamone was brilliant in the first half, scoring 11 points and helping defend Bacon’s senior point guard Valerie Luizzi.
Luizzi, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, heated up as the game aged and scored 12 of her game-high 17 points in the second half. She went on a personal seven-point run in the third quarter, allowing the Bobcats to claw back into the game and they took their first lead on an Emma Mancuso jumper late in the quarter.
Salamone countered by hitting a pull-up jumper on the baseline and making one or two free throws to regain the lead for the Bellringers.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jordan Murphy scored in translation with an assist from Jackie Russell, giving East Hampton a 25-21 advantage.
It would prove to be the last bucket or the night for the Bellringers as the team’s offense stalled the rest of the game, managing only one point over the final six minutes.
With less than ten seconds left, Salamone’s contested layup attempt—which would have tied the game—rattled out. Luizzi grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws to seal the win.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Russell and his team, who matched the Bobcats physically for the entire 32-minute slugfest.
“We got some better angels early and later we didn't play through the contact and what seemed like a whistle early wasn’t late. We have to adjust to the game when it’s being played,” said Russell.
Poor free throw shooting also hurt the Bellringers, who made only four of 11 attempts from the charity stripe.
It was only the third defeat—including the postseason—suffered by the Bellringers all winter.
Overall, the team won 23 of 26 games and posted winning streaks of 11 games and 9 games. They also won all 15 games played at East Hampton High School.
Following the loss, Russell’s message to the team was one of support and encouragement.
“I think right now you want to be there for your seniors. Their careers just ended,” said Russell, who will return four of five starters. “The younger girls will have to take this experience and learn from it and move forward. The reality of the situation is there are no guarantees that you’ll be back in this game. You still have to win and earn it, but I think we are capable of doing it and I think we’ve shown that.”
Russell will lose two seniors to graduation in starting center Madison Yorker and reserve Elizabeth MacDonald. Both played critical roles on and off the court.
Yorker said the team became a family, adding, “I looked forward to playing with these girls and going to practice every day. These girls became some of my best friends. I truly think that this was one of the things that got us this far in our season.”
“I will miss being a Bellringer basketball player in general because of how much support and love the school, coaches, and girls give to the program [and] sport,” added Yorker.
Russell said the departing seniors will be missed next season, crediting them for the team’s chemistry this winter.
“They have meant everything and their leadership is unrivaled. They are two of the greatest teammates you will ever see,” added Russell. “They have been the foundation and anything that has occurred this year is because of what they have instilled, the way that they have led the younger kids, and the way that they guided them.”
Salamone, who plays point guard and earned first team All-SLC, will head a terrific group coming back next year. [Jackie] Russell, a sophomore, and [Jordan] Murphy, a junior, also made all-conference. Starter Delany Russell will also be returning for her senior year. Key reserves Amber Murphy and Olivia DeMartino will also assume larger roles next winter.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin