Cromwell's Kayla Nappi guards East Hampton's Jackie Russell during the Panthers 47-30 victory on Feb. 9
On Dec. 28, Cromwell girls’ basketball allowed 24 points in the fourth quarter as East Hampton came from behind to hand the Panthers their first loss of the season.
42 days later the Panthers got revenge, defeating the Bellringers 47-30 last Tuesday at CHS.
The 17-point win snapped an 11-game winning streak for East Hampton.
“Tonight we got beat by a very good team, who played well,” said East Hampton head coach Shaun Russell. “They deserved to win. They did a good job at doing the things they are good at and we have to adjust.”
Nevaeh Clark led a balanced Cromwell attack, netting 13 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals.
The sting of the previous loss was motivating for the Panthers, who had won seven of eight following the December defeat.
“That was something we talked about since we lost that game. We knew we had to come out strong against this team and put them away early,” said Clark, “We remember what they did in the fourth quarter the last time we played, so we knew we had to shut them down early on and they are young so we knew they could crumble if we kept the pressure on.”
Holding a 21-20 lead at the half, Cromwell turned up the defensive intensity in the third and held East Hampton to three points in the quarter. They continued the defensive pressure into the fourth, allowing only seven more points.
“In the third quarter we played more of the defensive style we want to play and that’s a credit to [the players]. We pressured the ball and you saw what happened on the other end,” said CHS head coach Kelly Maher. “We knew what East Hampton was going to do coming in. They have two great players and the rest of the team compliments them well. We had to go out and stop it and I think you saw that in the third quarter.”
In the first meeting, East Hampton guard Jackie Russell scored 24 points with 15 coming in the fourth.
In the rematch, Russell was held to 13 points with only three coming after the first half.
Russell was hounded all night by Clark and Jessica Grodzicki, who earned Player of the Game after scoring a dozen points, grabbing seven rebounds, and dishing out seven assists.
“It was our main focus because we knew Jackie was their shooter and #5 [Liana Salamone] was their driver. We knew how to shut them down,” said Grodzicki, who added the team has matured since the last meeting. “We’ve really come together as a team. We’ve played better, we’ve practiced better, and on defense our communication has been better.”
Adela Cecunjanin added nine points and a team-high eight rebound. In the last meeting, Cecunjanin fouled out during a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter and had patiently waited nearly six weeks for the rematch.
“I knew I had to be smarter down low and depend on my teammates as well. We worked on help defense, rotating, and working together,” said Cecunjanin, who added four blocks.
Cromwell’s reserves made the difference in the second half as Brynn Kovacs and Kayla Nappi provided instant energy off the bench.
Kovacs knocked down a three pointer in the third quarter after she received a pass from Grodzicki, who had just grabbed an offensive rebound following a miss from the foul line.
Kovacs’ three was part of a 12-0 Cromwell run in the second half.
Nappi started the scoring run after stealing a pass and going coast-to-coast for a layup.
“I thought they really changed the game,” Maher said of her reserves, “We were able to get some defensive stops, make some good passes, and hit some big shots. They helped to change that momentum and the more game experience they can get is only going to help us down the stretch because we need them.”
Cecunjanin said that Kovacs and Nappi’s minutes allowed the starting five to get some much-needed rest in the second half, adding, “Those are big plays. It brings up the energy and morale and helps us win in these games.”
Because of a COVID-related rescheduling, the game against the Bellringers was the first of seven games over a nine-day span for the Panthers.
Following the win over East Hampton, the team dropped the next two games before rebounding with a 62-45 win over Canton on Feb. 12. Cecunjanin was dominant in the win over Canton, scoring 18 points and ripping down 14 rebounds.
Entering the week, Cromwell stands at 13-4.
With the conference and state tournaments right around the corner, Maher wants to see the team play with the same intensity they did in the second half against East Hampton.
“It has taken us some time, especially leadership and maturity-wise. Last year was a shortened season, so [the players] didn’t get to experience these type of games as much to learn how to close games out,” said Maher, who has no seniors on her roster, “We’re starting to see that now and when things don't go our way we are learning to respond to that. It’s taken some time to learn that, but I think we are learning. The more games we have under our belt the better we will be.”
Adela Cecunjanin scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a recently win over Canton on Feb. 12
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin