Pictured: The East Hampton Bellringers, along with coach Shaun Russell (back row, center), mug for the cameras after winning the Shoreline crown.
By Marc Silvestrini
OLD SAYBROOK – East Hampton won the Shoreline Conference title by defeating Morgan 32-16 in the tournament championship game Friday nght, even though the Bellringers didn’t exactly get off to an auspicious start.
In fact, East Hampton was shut out for the entire first quarter and didn’t score its first points of the game until the 6:57 mark of the second quarter, due to a combination of good defense by the Huskies and an ice-cold shooting performance by the Bellringers.
Morgan, however, couldn’t take advantage of East Hampton’s stone-cold start, managing just a pair of buckets in the first quarter and an early second-quarter bucket before the Bellringers finally managed to hit the scoreboard.
From that point, they were superior.
Down 6-0 with 63 seconds gone in the second quarter, East Hampton suddenly came alive and reeled off 17 straight points over the next five minutes to grab a double-digit lead. And the Bellringers never looked back.
“The key to the game was we were only down by four points at the end of that first quarter,” said East Hampton coach Shaun Russell. “We were able to take a minute at the end of the quarter, compose ourselves, and just come out and play our game.
“Our offense really picked things up in the second quarter,” he added. “We had much better movement, we were attacking the rim, we were doing a lot of things we didn’t do in the first quarter.”
East Hampton (22-1) celebrated its first Shoreline crown since winning back-to-back titles in 2007 and ’08. The Bellringers begin play in the CIAC Class S tournament next week as the No. 1 seed. Morgan, which will play in the Class M tournament as the No. 6 seed, is now 17-6.
“Our shots just weren’t falling at the beginning of the game, so we all knew that our defense would have to carry us until we started playing better on offense,” said junior forward Mya Field. “Our defense won the game for us by keeping the game close while we were struggling on offense.”
Teammate Angela Mercaldi agreed.
“Our defense is always there, it always comes through for us,” she said.
East Hampton, which played mostly a 2-1-2 zone against the Huskies, has flexed its defensive muscles throughout the Shoreline tournament. The Bellringers never allowed Morgan to score more than five points in any of the four quarters, and have held their previous tournament opponents to less than 10 points in 11 of the 12 quarters they’ve played.
“Defense is something we work very hard on, something we take great pride in,” Russell said. “Playing good defense isn’t very flashy, it isn’t very glamorous – it takes a lot of hard work, determination and sweat. And our guys have always been willing to put in the kind of effort it takes to play good defense. They all take great pride in that aspect of the game.”
On the offensive side of the ledger, Hannah Barrientos led East Hampton with 13 points while Mercaldi had eight and Field chipped in with six. Morgan point guard Catie Donadio scored 12 of the Huskies’ 16 points.
Donadio provided all the offensive fireworks in the first quarter, scoring the game’s first bucket on a short baseline jumper at the 3:47 mark and the only other points on a runner from the lane with 2:14 to go.
Leading by four entering the second quarter, Morgan stretched its lead to 6-0 on a drive by Rachel Lehn, but then the Bellringers offense opened up the floodgates, scoring the next 17 points to take a 17-6 lead with slightly more than two minutes to play in the half.
Mercaldi started the onslaught with a driving layup at the 6:57 mark, slicing the Huskies’ lead to 6-2. Meryl Curtin then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Barrientos scored on a drive through the lane, and Mercaldi buried a 3-pointer from the deep corner. Barrientos continued the run with a short jumper, Mercaldi hit another long-distance 3 and Field capped the surge by scoring on an acrobatic drive through the lane.
Donadio ended the first-half scoring by drilling a 3-pointer to pull the Huskies to within eight, at 17-9, at the half.
Barrientos hit a short jumper and Danielle Adams scored on a put-back from underneath to stretch the Bellringers lead to 12, at 21-9, over the first four minutes of the third quarter. From there, they outscored Morgan 7-2 over the balance of the quarter to grab a commanding 28-11 after three.
Both teams had trouble on offense over the final eight minutes, scoring a combined total of nine points.
“We just didn’t do anything right tonight,” Morgan coach Caitlin Woods said. “We didn’t play very well on offense – we had some badly missed shots that really bothered us – and we basically broke down on defense. I didn’t think we played well at all.
“Once we let East Hampton come back at us and assume that eight-to-ten-point lead, they were able to slow the pace of the game down, which is their game but doesn’t work well for us.”
Alyse Olcott 0 0 0, Caeley Ayer 0 0 0, Catie Donadio 5 1 12, Leah McComiskey 0 0 0, Katelyn Martin 1 0 2, Rachel Lehn 1 0 2, Alex Kelly 0 0 0. Totals: 7 1 16.
EAST HAMPTON (32)
Meryl Curtin 1 0 3, Angela Mercaldi 3 0 8, Mya Field 3 0 6, Hannah Barrientos 5 3 13, Danielle Adams 1 0 2, Madison Yorker 0 0 0, Maggie Donohue 0 0 0. Totals: 13 3 32.
Score By Quarters
M 4 5 2 5—16
EH 0 17 11 4—32
3-Pointers: M—Donadio 1; EH—Mercaldi 2, Curtin 1.