Pictured: Stafford’s Jordan Huntley (5) shoots over Hannah Barrientos (33) while Bellringer defenders Mya Field (25) and Angela Mercaldi tend to their defensive assignments in Friday’s Class S second-round game.
By Marc Silvestrini
EAST HAMPTON – The good news for the Stafford High girls basketball team occurred with 5:26 to play in the third quarter when freshman Jaelyn Moulton scored on a drive through the lane to extend its lead to 10 points.
The bad news: The Bulldogs never scored again.
The top-seeded East Hampton Bellringers ratcheted up their defense and held Stafford scoreless over the final 13:26 Friday night en route to a 44-24 win in the second round of the CIAC Class S tournament.
The win vaults East Hampton into a quarterfinal-round home game Thursday (7pm) against a familiar opponent, No. 8 seed Old Lyme, a 61-22 second-round winner over Aerospace. The Bellringers already have played the Wildcats three times this season, winning by scores of 43-31 (at Old Lyme), 49-19 (in East Hampton) and 46-21 last week in the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference tournament.
East Hampton’s tough, aggressive man-to-man defense not only kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard for more than a quarter and a half, but it also helped revitalize a stagnant offense by creating a barrel full of turnovers and steals, which in turn led to a game-breaking series of fast-break opportunities and uncontested layups.
“The girls did a great job of running the court off the turnovers our defense created,” said junior forward Mya Field, whose defense against Stafford’s best ball handlers was a key component of East Hampton’s comeback. “I know on nights when I’m struggling on offense, my defense is my strongest suit.”
East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said the reason his team’s man-to-man is so effective is that he has three players – Field, Angela Mercaldi and Danielle Adams – in the 5-foot-9 or 5-10 range who are long and tall enough to guard the opposition’s best frontcourt players, but quick and athletic enough to guard the other team’s top guards.
“Those three can guard just about anybody and that gives us a lot of flexibility on defense and a lot of options,” he said.
On the offensive side of things, Mercaldi finished as East Hampton’s top scorer on the night with 14 points, while Adams added 10, Hannah Barrientos chipped in with 9 and Field had eight. Jaelyn Moulton led the way for the Bulldogs with 11 points.
Trailing by 10 at 24-14 after Moulton’s drive, Mercaldi, with six points, and Barrientos, with three, combined to score the last nine points of the quarter to trim the Bulldog lead to one, at 24-23, entering the final eight minutes of play.
The Bellringers then came out for the final quarter and showed the near sellout crowd why they are the No. 1-seeded team in Class S.
Meryl Curtin opened the quarter by hitting a long 3-pointer from the top of the key off a nifty feed from Mercaldi, who kicked the ball back out to Curtin after drawing most of the Bulldog defenders inside to try and stop her drive to the hoop.
Curtin’s three gave the Bellringers their first lead since 12-11 midway through the second quarter.
From there, Mercaldi sank a free throw, Barrientos hit a layup off a steal and feed from Field, Adams scored three in a row and Barrientos converted yet another steal and feed from Field into a layup to balloon their lead to 36-24 with 5:12 to play.
A layup by Field, a put back from underneath by Adams, a Mercaldi layup and a 15-foot jumper by Barrientos over the game’s final four minutes put a ribbon on East Hampton’s 23rd win of the season against a single loss.
“They’re a very, very good team and we gave them far too many chances to make plays,” Stafford coach Scott Martin said. “We’re very young – we play six freshmen – and I think our overall lack of experience came into play, especially in the second half.”
The Bulldogs hardly looked like a young and inexperienced team as the first half of the game progressed.
East Hampton opened the scoring with a 3-pointer by Adams and a pair of Mercaldi free throws to take a quick 5-0 lead, but a Jaelyn Moulton 3-pointer and a bucket from underneath by Camden Smith enabled the Bulldogs to tie the game at 5-5 after one quarter of play.
A conventional three-point play by Andrea Moulton – Jaelyn’s sister – and a 3-point shot off the glass from the top of the key by Hannah Fish enabled the Bulldogs to grab an 11-7 lead midway through the second quarter. A pair of 15-foot jumpers by Field and a Mercaldi free throw gave the Bellringers their last lead until the final quarter at 12-11 with three minutes to play in the half.
A short bank by Fish and a long three-pointer by Andrea Moulton enabled the visitors to score the last five points of the half to leave the floor with a 16-12 halftime lead.
The Mouton sisters then keyed an 8-2 Bulldog run in the opening minutes of the third quarter to establish the 10 point lead that East Hampton’s furious defensive pressure eventually overcame.
“At halftime, we talked about two main things we wanted to accomplish in the second half,” Russell said. “We wanted to start taking the ball to the rim on offense and we wanted to apply enough defensive pressure to force them to speed up their game and make them uncomfortable.
“And I thought we did a pretty good job of accomplishing those things,” he added. “Taking the ball to the rim and ramping up our defensive pressure turned things around.”
Field agreed with her coach’s take on the important role the Bellringers defense played in the second half.
“We all worked together on defense, we were all over the place and we really stayed in front of everyone,” she said.
Hannah Fish 1 1 5, Camden Smith 1 0 2, Jaelyn Moulton 4 0 11, Andrea Moulton 2 1 6, Jordan Huntley 0 0 0, Stephanie Brown 0 0 0, Kay Roethlein 0 0 0, Kayle Gutierrez 0 0 0. Totals: 9 1 24.
EAST HAMPTON (44)
Meryl Curtin 1 0 3, Angela Mercaldi 4 6 14, Mya Field 4 0 8, Hannah Barrientos 4 1 9, Danielle Adams 4 1 10, Madison Yorker 0 0 0, Maggie Donohue 0 0 0. Totals: 17 8 44.
Score By Quarters
S 5 11 8 0–24
EH 5 7 11 21–44
3-Pointers: S—Jaelyn Moulton 3, Andrea Moulton 1, Fish 1; EH—Adams 1, Curtin 1.
Records: Stafford 11-12; East Hampton 23-1.
Elsewhere in Class S action Saturday:
Putnam 43, Portland 32
PUTNAM – No. 2 seed Putnam ended No. 15 Portland’s season in the second round of the Class S tournament.
Ava Hurley scored 15 points from the Highlanders on five 3-point shots.
Kayleigh Lyons scored 20 points for Putnam, including the 1,000th of her career.
Maddie Brunk 1 0-0 3, Ava Hurley 5 0-0 15, Graves 2 0-0 5, Morgan Lasky 1 1-4 3, Sam Lasky 2 2-2 6, Leah May 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 3-6 32.
Alex Hutchins 0 1-2 1, Kayleigh Lyons 8 2-2 20, Jillian Gray 0 1-2 1, Molly McKeon 2 0-0 5, Abby St. Martin 6 4-4 16. Totals: 16 8-10 43.
Score By Quarters
Prt 12 6 8 6—32
Put 7 11 14 11—43
3-Pointers: Port—Hurley 5, Brunk 1, Graves 1; Put—Lyons 2, McKeon 1.
Records: Portland 12-11; Putnam 19-3.