East Hampton sophomore Liana Salamone (#5 on the bottom right) celebrates with her teammates after the Bellringers won a fourth straight conference title. Salamone was named the Shoreline Conference Player of the Year prior to the Bellringers defeating Cromwell in the conference title game on Feb. 24.
Last Friday evening was a banner night for East Hampton girls basketball and star sophomore Liana Salamone.
Prior to the Bellringers Shoreline Conference (SLC) title bout with Cromwell, Salamone was presented as the SLC Player of the Year.
Salamone said she had no idea that she would be selected as the conference’s best player, calling the honor a “surprise.”
“It means a lot, I am really grateful. I didn’t expect it,” recalled Salamone, who thought the award might go to Valley Regional senior Abby Bradbury, who Salamone called “a really good, experienced player.”
Once the conference championship tipped, Salamone was all business as the Bellringers defeated the Panthers of Cromwell 35-24 to capture a fourth consecutive conference crown.
East Hampton used a methodical offense and a smothering defense to limit Cromwell to a season-low in points.
Trailing 18-16 at the half, the Bellringers kicked the defensive intensity into an extra gear in the second half, holding Cromwell to a mere six points over the final two quarters.
Salamone said the team focused on stopping all-conference players Neveah Clark and Adela Cecunjanin from getting easy looks.
East Hampton’s strategy worked as Cromwell’s all-conference duo, which entered the game averaging nearly 25 points per game, combined to score only 12 points.
“We all played together and played help defense,” stated Salamone.
Salamone outscored the Panthers by herself in the second half, finishing with a game-high 16 points to lead the Bellringers on the offensive end.
The win marked the second time in two weeks that East Hampton had dealt Cromwell a loss, also winning 44-37 on Feb. 10.
Cromwell had handed East Hampton their only loss of the season on Jan. 3. Since that defeat, the Bellringers haven’t lost a
game and now enter the Class M state tournament riding a 17-game winning streak.
Salamone said the wins over Cromwell always mean a little more, adding this one was extra special because it was for all the conference marbles.
It also allowed the Bellringers to retain conference bragging rights for another season. East Hampton’s four straight
conference championships matches Cromwell’s four straight SLC titles they won from 2016-2019.
So what makes the girls’ program at East Hampton so special?
“We are all so close to each other and it’s to the point where we aren’t doing it for ourselves, we are doing it for everyone on the team,” answered Salamone, who said the team wanted to keep the conference streak going for the team’s two seniors Jordan Murphy and Mikeala Rich. “We wanted to win this for them, we didn’t want them to go out on a loss and we wanted to get them another championship.”
Entering this season, Salamone was coming off a first-team All-SLC selection and Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) All-State selection as a freshman.
She has taken her game to another level this year after spending the offseason traveling the country with her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) ‘WeR1’ team, which is a highly competitive club team sponsored by Under Armour.
“It has helped a lot. I’m playing against some of the best players that I’ve ever seen, so I think overcoming those challenges with the team from my AAU program has helped me in high school,” said Salamone. “It has helped me communicate and stay composed out there.”
Along with scoring over 20 points per game for the Bellringers, she has assumed a larger bulk of the leadership responsibilities too.
“I think I have the trust of the girls now more than ever and I feel more confident in my role on the team,” stated
Salamone was joined on the SLC first–team by junior Jackie Russell. Sophomore Olivia DeMaritno earned honorable mention status.
But the team is just getting started. The next goal is a state title, which would be the program’s first since 1980.
After earning the top-seed in Class M (and a first round bye), Salamone and the Bellringers start the quest for a state title today (Friday, March 3) when they host a second round game at East Hampton High School, tipping at 6:30.
“We are very confident in each other and know what we are all capable of doing,” stated Salamone.
Salamone is also close to achieving another milestone.
Despite being at the school less than two years, she is only 18 points away from reaching the 1000-point scoring mark.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin