Cromwell's Nevaeh Clark is defended by East Hampton's Jordan Murphy during the Bellringers 44-38 victory
Cromwell girls’ basketball suffered their first loss of the season, falling on the road to East Hampton, 44-38, on Dec. 28
Following a terrific defensive performance in the third quarter, the Panthers led by seven going into the final quarter until East Hampton sophomore guard Jackie Russell caught fire, scoring 15 of her game-high 24 points in the final frame.
Russell single-handedly erased the deficit, canning four three-points on four straight possessions during a personal 12-0 run early in the fourth.
“Tonight we looked sloppy and sluggish and a step behind,” said Cromwell head coach Kelly Maher. “We lost our focus at times. We knew what we had to do coming in and we didn't execute the game plan. They made some big shots and we didn’t. We’ll look at it, make some corrections, and move on.”
The teams were mirror images of one another in the first half, both playing aggressively on defense during the first 16 minutes. The game was tied at seven after the first quarter and the Bellringers took an 18-17 lead into the break.
Maher’s team clamped down defensively after the half, limiting the home team to two points in the third, and a three-pointer from Grace Mikan put the Panthers up 27-20.
Early in the fourth, Jackie Russell’s scoring blitz gave the Bellringers a 33-29 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
“In the fourth quarter they saw the ball go through the net and that picked us up. Jackie made some really big shots tonight and I thought the other kids played their roles tonight,” East Hampton head coach Shaun Russell said. “It’s a really good team win and now we can focus on some of the things we need to work on.”
The win improved the Bellringers to 4-1.
“I feel like the team is blending really well right and I feel like we do have that chemistry,” added Jackie Russell. “It’s easier to get through these games when we have everyone’s back and everyone’s support.”
Junior captain Jessica Grodzicki helped the Panthers claw back in the game, draining a pair of three pointers. Grodzicki, who finished with a team-high 16 points, nailed a contested three with three minutes left in regulation to narrow the deficit to 35-34 before junior teammate Adela Cecunjanin fouled out following a controversial call on the ensuring defensive possession.
The Bellringers made five clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
It was an unfamiliar feeling for the Panthers, who opened the year with four convincing victories; beating Newtown (39-29), Haddam-Killingworth (50-27), Morgan (59-22), and Pomperaug (54-35).
In the home victory over Pomperaug, Maher achieved her 300th victory behind 20 points from Nevaeh Clark. Grodzicki added 14 points and Cecunjanin had a stellar all-around performance with seven points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a pair of blocks.
Cromwell, who doesn’t have a senior on the roster, will close the regular season with a rematch against East Hampton at CHS on Feb. 8. Between now and then they will play a dozen games, including an out-of-conference bout with powerhouse Newington on Jan. 20 at CHS.
Despite a lackluster performance at East Hampton, Maher likes the energy her team played with in the first four and wants to use the loss to East Hampton as a learning experience.
“We just have to keep getting better every game,” said Maher. “This game will help us with some of the things we need to work on and we’ll go from there.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin