East Hampton’s Liana Salamone drives around Valley Regional’s Siena Schaller during the Bellringers 44-39 victory last Friday. Salamone led all scorers with 23 points.
Sophomore sensation Liana Salamone was at her best when it counted the most.
After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Salamone went into attack mode over the final three quarters and finished with a game-high 23 points as East Hampton girls’ basketball rallied to defeat Valley Regional 44-39 on Feb. 3.
Salamone, the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons, exploded for 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bellringers erased a deficit over the final eight minutes to earn their 15th win this winter.
Despite playing with the home court advantage, East Hampton struggled from the field for most of the game, trailing by as many as ten points in the second half.
The tide began to shift midway through the third quarter when Salamone scored four straight points to spark a 10-2 scoring run for the home team.
In the closing minute of the third quarter, sophomore Katie Ireland buried a three-pointer and senior captain Jordan Murphy scored on a rebound putback to cut the deficit to four entering the final frame.
A baseline three-pointer from Ireland with 1:30 to play in regulation gave the Bellringers their first lead since it was 3-2 in the first minute of the game.
Salamone scored five straight points late in regulation and the Bellringers defense stiffened late, holding the road-weary
Warriors to two points in the final three minutes of the game, to polish off the victory.
The win was a microcosm of the season for the Bellringers, who have battled through adversity since longtime head coach Shaun Russell was put on suspension after shoving one of his players in a win at Valley Regional High School on Dec. 20.
Allyson Smith, a 2005 graduate of East Hampton High School, is serving as the team’s interim coach in Russell’s absence.
Smith was a two-time all-state and four-time all-conference basketball player at East Hampton High School, finishing with 1,444 points and as the school’s all-time leader in steals, before winning a National Title as a member of Southern Connecticut State University basketball team from 2005-2009.
Despite the early-season controversy followed by the coaching shift, the Bellringers haven’t missed a beat on the court. They have won 16 of 17 games this season, outscoring their opponents by nearly 31 points per game.
Salamone, who was the only freshman girls’ basketball player to be named all-state last winter, has again paced the team offensively but had trouble finding her rhythm in the first quarter against Valley Regional.
Early on, junior Delaney Russell picked up the slack on the offensive end, scoring the team’s first eight points including a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter.
Salamone did most of her damage in the second half when she outscored the Warriors (17-16) by herself over the final two quarters.
But it was the team’s defense that allowed them to close the door, holding Valley Regional to a mere seven points over the final eight minutes.
Valley Regional’s senior captain Abigail Bradbury scored a team-high 19 points, but only three points came in the decisive fourth quarter thanks to a defensive effort led by East Hampton’s all-conference junior Jackie Russell.
Following the win over Valley, East Hampton beat Morgan 57-24 on Tuesday, extending the team’s winning streak to 11 games.
Next up is a rematch with conference foe Cromwell (14-4) at Cromwell High School (today) Friday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.
The Panthers from Cromwell are the only team to defeat East Hampton this season, winning 38-29 at East Hampton High School on Jan. 3. They also won last year’s game regular season meeting, handing the Bellringers one of only two regular season losses during the 2021-2022 season.
Since 2016, East Hampton and Cromwell have dominated the Shoreline Conference (SLC), combining to win seven straight conference championships with the Bellringers winning the last three and the Panthers holding the crown from 2016-2019.
The rival teams are also two of the top-ranked team in Class M, meaning they have potential conference and state postseason games on the horizon.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin