Pictured: Morgan junior forward Rob Zirlis gets to the rim against East Hampton in the fourth quarter of Monday’s Shoreline game. Zirlis scored 9 of his team-high 23 points in the quarter.
By Paul Augeri
EAST HAMPTON – There’s a ton of regular-season basketball still ahead, but Morgan coach Frank Rossi allowed himself a few minutes to consider what his team accomplished in December.
The Huskies closed out the month with their fifth game in 12 days, and they cleaned up, defeating an up-and-coming East Hampton squad 72-53 in Shoreline Conference play Monday behind junior forward Rob Zirlis’ 23 points and 14 rebounds.
The victory was the Huskies’ fourth, and it also gave them a 2-0 start in the conference. Like any team in Connecticut, Morgan had less than two preseason weeks to prepare for actual games, so a 4-1 record might feel twice as good as it looks on paper.
The Huskies’ only loss to date came to CCC member Platt three days ago in the Fred Kelly Holiday Tournament in North Haven.
“We’re all playing with confidence,” Rossi said. “This vacation, this break, has really given us that. We’ve got some good wins against some really good teams.”
Junior guards Zach Johnson, who finished with 17 points, and Jason Cohen (16, with four 3-pointers) had hot hands from the outside Monday.
On the other end, the Huskies’ imposing front line of 6-foot-5 Zirlis, 6-6 sophomore Connor Duffy and 6-2 sophomore Alex Fratamico put up a unified wall against the guard-oriented Bellringers, who lost for the first time after starting the season with three victories.
“I was particularly proud defensively of how we matched up with them,” Rossi said. “I don’t think the scoreboard dictates the talent that East Hampton has. They can shoot. We made them uncomfortable. A lot of their shot selection was forced. We put them into positions where I don’t think they were getting the shots they quite wanted to take.”
Senior guard Stephen Brady scored a game-high 24 points for East Hampton (following up a 27-point game against Old Saybrook) and junior Ted Zhao added 13, but the rest of coach Parker Strong’s young lineup struggled to contribute offense.
“I don’t know how well we shot the ball. At times we missed some shots we’d normally make,” East Hampton coach Parker Strong said. “Give Morgan credit, they blocked some shots and altered some shots. We like shooting threes and spacing the floor. It was tough to put shots in on the inside.
“There were times we got inside and they blocked a few shots — not tipped, but sent backwards. We have to choose a better shot if it’s blocked that badly. We haven’t faced anyone with that size. It took us too long to adjust to it.”
Morgan appeared poised to put the game away before the fourth quarter began. The Huskies held a 34-26 lead at halftime and pushed their advantage to 14, at 50-36, with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bellringers, however, got back in it. Brady knocked down a jumper. Zhao hit an uncontested layup after a Morgan, was fouled and made the free throw. And Brady stole the ball and drove for the lay-in. The 7-0 quarter-ending run put East Hampton within 50-43.
“We have a lot of shooting, so if you catch us on the right night, we can pull one out,” Strong said. “They pulled away a little bit, but we got back within striking distance, which was nice.”
The Bellringers’ momentum was short-lived, however.
Johnson swished a 3-pointer in the opening seconds of the fourth to get Morgan’s lead back to 10. East Hampton got it back to single digits twice, the last when Zhao scored in the paint to make it 55-47 with 5:39 left in the game.
From there, Morgan scored the next eight points, with Zirlis’ three-point play capping the run for a 63-47 lead with 3:36 remaining. Zirlis used his physicality to score nine points in the fourth quarter.
“The past two games I’ve felt really confident with my matchups,” Zirlis said. “When I have a mismatch I want to take advantage of it, and I want to bury my guy and score on him every single time whenever I get the ball. But I also want to get my teammates involved, and if they have a mismatch on someone, I want to get them involved and get them scoring, too.”
Said Rossi: “Robbie has grown up … he’s come so far in the last two games, and he’s played the way he expected he would play, and he’s playing the way that we want him to play. He’s become way more aggressive and he’s playing with so much confidence.”
The only Bellringer to counteract at least one of Morgan’s size was 6-5 sophomore Jack Blakely, but this was his first game of the season after nursing an injury.
“I’m sure nerves were there for him,” Strong said. “We have a lot of young kids – four seniors, two of whom start, and four players who came off the bench are all sophomores. We like our sophomore class. But this was the first game for some of these kids. We had to pull away in the three games we’ve won.
“This one came down to the fourth quarter. It was within reach, but Morgan did a great job of executing and pulling away.”
Zach Johnson 7 1 17, Jason Cohen 6 0 16, Alex Fratamico 3 0 7, Rob Zirlis 9 5 23, Connor Duffy 2 2 6, Jon Fiorillo 0 0 0, Cam Carlson 0 1 1, Nicholas Colebank 0 0 0, Gavin Krott 0 0 0, Mason Smith 0 0 0, Alex Urban 0 0 0, Joshua Bardinelli 0 0 0. Totals: 28 9 72.
EAST HAMPTON (53)
Ted Zhao 5 3 13, Grant Arcidiacono 1 2 5, Stephen Brady 7 6 24, Jye Lynch 2 0 5, Chris Weyrauch 0 0 0, Max Karrenberg 1 0 3, Jack Blakely 1 1 3, Dan Cascio 0 0 0, Ethan Palma 0 0 0, Chris Progano 0 0 0, Drew DiStefano 0 0 0. Totals: 17 12 53.
Score By Quarters
M 18 16 22 16—72
EH 10 16 17 10—53
3-Pointers: M—Cohen 4, Johnson 2, Fratamico 1. EH—Brady 4, Arcidiacono 1, Lynch 1, Karrenberg 1.
Records: Morgan 4-1, 2-0 SLC; East Hampton 3-1, 1-1 SLC.
- Morgan home vs. H-K, Thursday, 7pm
- East Hampton at Valley Regional, Thursday, 7pm