East Hampton boys’ head coach John Antolini has a young team that features only two seniors, yet the arrow is pointing up for a young, resilient squad that is right in the thick of things in the Shoreline Conference (SLC).
After losing by 30 points on the road to SLC rival Cromwell last Tuesday, the Bellringers quickly bounced back with a conference win over North Branford on Jan. 6 at East Hampton High School.
Antolini credited his two team captains, Nate Ireland and Brady Lynch, for keeping his team afloat through the early stages on the season.
The second-year head coach called his pair of court captains “very consistent.”
“They have both stepped up. They are leading by example on the court and doing the small things that typically matter,” added Antolini.
Ireland is one of the team’s two seniors, joining Nicholas Chunko on a roster that also only features three juniors.
Lynch is a sophomore who has furthered expanded his presence on the court after starting as a freshman a season ago.
“His foul shooting has certainly improved and his midrange jumper has improved immensely,” Antolini said of Lynch, the team’s leading scorer at over 20 points per game. “He’s become a better all-round player and gotten better defensively.”
The captains didn’t have their best night in the loss to Cromwell as turnover doomed the team in the first half.
Cromwell went on a 14-3 run in the second quarter behind the talents of junior Victor Payne, who scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the first half.
An 18-2 spurt by the Panthers ended any doubt of a second half rally for East Hampton.
“We didn’t play really well today, we came out flat,” Antolini said after the loss to Cromwell. “They outrebounded us and that’s where a lot of their points came from in the first half. We tried to limit it by putting a little pressure on them but they were the better team tonight, period.”
Despite the loss, there were some positives that came out of the loss to Cromwell.
The Bellringers came out aggressively in the first half, getting the reigning SLC champs into early foul trouble and the game was tied at 8-8 midway through the first quarter thanks to a pair of buckets from Ireland.
East Hampton also had balanced scoring, with seven Bellringers scoring in the loss.
Three nights later, East Hampton put the loss to Cromwell behind them with a 64-62 win over North Branford.
Lynch led the way, scoring 27 points and grabbing nine. Ireland added 15 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists.
Lynch and Ireland also delivered from the line, combining to make 13 or 16 free throws.
It was a terrific all-around shooting night for the team, who shot 79% from the charity strip and 52% from the field in the win.
Sophomores Austin Cuthbertson and Jadin Sawyer also came up big. Cuthbertson chipped in ten points and Sawyer added eight points, knocking down a pair of shots from downtown.
In the program’s first year under Antolini, the Bellringers qualified for the Division V state tourney after winning 13 games, including a victory in the opening round of the SLC tourney.
Antolini believes his current team has that type of potential again as long as they take care of the ball and cut down on turnovers.
“We’ve done a good job at points this season,” added Antolini. ‘We need to limit out mistakes as we move our way throughout our Shoreline schedule, but if we do that I like our chances the rest of the year.”
On Tuesday, East Hampton improved to 5-2 with another conference win, defeating Hale Ray 58-47.
As of publication, the Bellringers five wins ranks behind only Cromwell and Portland for the most wins in the conference.
The team will next host Coginchaug on Wednesday, Jan. 18 in another SLC test. Tip-off is 5:30 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin