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.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin