#24 Monica Dewey guards East Hampton's Meryl Cutin during Cromwell 38-32 loss to the Bellringers last week
Experience is invaluable and a young Cromwell girls basketball team ran into a veteran-laden East Hampton team last Tuesday night, falling 38-32 in the team’s home opener at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.
Fouls and turnovers doomed the Panthers, who committed 19 fouls, including seven in the opening quarter.
“Some of them were fouls and some of the were questionable, but that’s the nature of the game. You have to be able to play through and adjust. We were a little late adjusting to that and then missed opportunities at the other end,” stated head coach Kelly Maher.
Following a back-and-forth first quarter, Cromwell clamped down defensively, limiting the visiting Bellringers to three points in the second quarter to take an 18-16 lead into half.
East Hampton flipped the script in the third quarter, forcing turnovers on the Panthers first five possession before spending most of the quarter at the free throw line.
“It’s just the story of the game. It seems like we had more turnovers than shot attempts tonight. Some of that is due to East Hampton but some of that is on us,” added Maher, who watched her team commit 26 turnovers, “We hurt ourselves in a lot of situations tonight, but I was happy with our sense of urgency and how they fought back and continued to play through it.”
East Hampton turned Cromwell’s miscues into points, with several coming at the foul line. The Bellringer finished 15 of 21 from the line, including a perfect 8 for 8 in the third and 12 of 14 overall in the second half.
East Hampton head coach Shaun Russell liked his team’s response in the second half, “Any time that you have experienced players that have been through the rigors of high school basketball together and have some success over time there is a certain level of comfort that you have against a team liked we played tonight. You know what you’re capable of and you know there is a trust factor with each other on the floor. As a coach, I know what I’m going to get out of them in terms of effort, enthusiasm, execution, and intensity and for the most part I got that.”
A year ago, the Bellringers were the #1 seed in the Class S tourney set to take on Old Lyme in the quarterfinals when the world changed, causing the cancellation to what could have been a state championship.
Russell welcomed back five senior starters this season and that experience showed on the court against their conference rivals, particularly when the Bellringers scored in the waning seconds in each of the first three quarters.
Hannah Barrientos buried a three to close the first quarter, Danielle Adams rebounded a miss and beat the clock with a layup to end the half, and Mya Field was fouled at the buzzer and made both free throws as the third quarter ended.
“That’s playing a lot of quarters together and having understanding of time and score situations,” added Russell, “I thought the basket at the end of the half was probably the biggest basket of the night just to get our feet back under us. They did a good job with us in the second quarter defensively. It’s not so much of an ability thing as it is the ability to calm your mind and realize the situation and be able to execute.”
Angela Mercaldi scored a game-high 12 points, ten coming after the break. Barrientos added 10, Adams 8, and Field 6.
Adela Cecunjanin was consistent all night for Cromwell, scoring a team-high 11 and hauling down seven rebounds. The sophomore forward has become a force, both on the inside and outside for Maher this season.
“She knows the game and she’s able to take what the other team gives her. It they’re going to guard her inside, she’ll go out, and she’s able to see things and get her other teammates involved. She’s grown overall in all areas of the game.”
After falling down by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, Cromwell made one last push with a 8-3 run. Marykate Sullivan’s three-point play and a baseline jumper from Jessica Grodzicki was followed by Monica Dewey taking a charge, giving Cromwell hope with under two minutes to play in regulation, but East Hampton made key stops on back-to-back possessions to preserve the win.
Sullivan finished with eight points and seven rebounds in defeat. She scored 16 in the team’s opener, a 51-37 victory over Haddam-Killingworth, and is one of four sophomore, along with Cecunjanin, Grodzicki, and Neveh Clark, that are getting extensive minutes.
The four are learning of the fly after being role players last season when the Panthers advanced to the Class M semifinal prior to the cancellation.
“It’s a whole new group and you’re relying of other players to make the big shots. They’re trying to figure each other out. I think every game we’re getting better at something but we just have to put it together,” stated Maher, “As time comes we’ll learn from it and get better and if we can take something away from this game, if we cut some of the turnovers down and make some layups it’s a whole different game.”
The Panthers rebounded last Thursday with a resounding 52-32 win over North Branford, evening their record at 2-2. Senior Likhita Chanda led the way with 16 points, knocking down all three of her shots from beyond the arc, and Dewey added 9 points and 5 assists.
Maher stated that because of the uniqueness and uncertainty of this season, the team is taking a ‘one game at a time’ approach, focusing on things they can control.
Russell added that the lessons of this season extends beyond the basketball court.
“The kids are not living a totally normal existence. There’s a lot of variables that are pulling at them and extra anxiety and stress that they don’t even realize. Coming into this year, some of the things that we wanted to focus on was some of the togetherness and talking about those struggles,” said Russell “Luckily for them they are all going through it together. We always try and have that culture but this year we’ve taken it to another level and focused on how are they doing, not just in basketball. It can’t only be about that, it’s got to be the other stuff. The other stuff is what you remember. You remember winning this game but what they’ll really remember is how they won it together. That’s the stuff that makes you feel good as a coach.”
East Hampton closed the week by defeating Haddam-Killingworth 37-22 on Saturday, improving their record to 4-0 entering the week.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin