Pictured: East Hampton’s Angela Mercaldi makes a strong slashing move to the hoop between Cromwell teammates Adela Cecunjanin and Jessica Grodzicki during Tuesday night’s 38-32 East Hampton win.
By Marc Silvestrini
CROMWELL – Because the four sophomores she plays extensively can all rebound and play tough, aggressive defense, Cromwell girls basketball coach Kelly Maher thinks her team will eventually be able to slug it out with elite teams like Shoreline Conference rival East Hampton.
But that day hasn’t quite arrived yet.
Tuesday night, Cromwell limited the powerful Bellringers to three points in the second quarter en route to an 18-16 halftime lead, but could not counter a 10-0 East Hampton run at the onset of the second half, a spurt the Bellringers used to forge a 38-32 win.
East Hampton, a senior-laden team that returns all five starters from last year’s Shoreline championship club, is now 3-0 on the season. Cromwell slipped to 1-2, having played the iron of the league — East Hampton and Morgan — in back to back games.
Returning All-State guard Angela Mercaldi and Hannah Barrientos paced the Bellringers attack with 12 points apiece, while Danielle Adams collected six points and nine rebounds and Mya Field chipped in with six points, four rebounds and four assists.
Adela Cecunjanin led the Panthers with an 11-point, seven-rebound effort, while Marykate Sullivan had eight points and seven rebounds.
“They’re tough, they’re scrappy, they played very hard tonight, just like they always do,” East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said of the young Panthers. “But after a tough start, I thought our kids did a good job of coming together and weathering the storm.”
“We got some nice stops on defense as the game went on and played with more togetherness and better communication down the stretch,” he said.
Once it took the lead for good early in the third quarter, East Hampton’s offense kept finding ways to get key baskets or get to the foul line, effectively preventing a Cromwell rally.
“I thought we played hard and did some good things tonight, but we committed way too many turnovers and we kept putting them on the foul line too many times,” Maher said. “You can’t commit that many turnovers and fouls against a team as good as East Hampton.”
Barrientos scored six of her team’s first eight points and nine points in the first quarter to help stake the Bellringers to a 13-9 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
“We were all ready to play, we were super focused because we’ve never beaten Cromwell in the four years we’ve been playing together,” Barrientos said. “Cromwell was the only team that beat us last year, so we really wanted to come out strong and get off to a fast start.
“I’m just glad I was able to help get us off to a good start.”
Jessica Grodzicki hit a pair of free throws, Sullivan hit a layup off a pretty feed from Cecunjanin, Likhita Chanda buried a 3-pointer from deep in the corner and Cecunjanin banked home a spinning reverse layup to fuel a 9-1 Cromwell spurt over the first seven minutes of the second quarter that staked the Panthers to an 18-14 lead.
Grodzicki, Sullivan and Cecunjanin are all sophomores, and along with classmate Nevaeh Clark form the basis of Maher’s optimism for the future of her program.
“Right now, we’re mostly looking for growth from those four,” she said. “Every day they get a little bit better, a little bit smarter.
“Sooner or later we think they’re going to put everything we’ve taught them together and be very good players, but with the shortened season we’re facing we just can’t be sure this is all going to happen soon enough to help us this year.
“We’re just hoping it happens sooner rather than later.”
Mercaldi and Field scored four points apiece to fuel East Hampton’s 10-0 run through the first six minutes of the third quarter, lifting the Bellringers to a 26-18 lead. Cecunjanin muscled in a layup and Monica Dewey hit a pair of free throws to draw the Panthers back to within four at 26-22, but Field hit a pair of free throws to push the Bellringer lead to six, at 28-22, entering the final quarter.
Two buckets by Adams and a Mercaldi free throw enabled the Bellringers to open the final quarter with five straight points, padding their lead to 11 at 33-22, a margin East Hampton was able to maintain until the final two minutes when a three-point play by Sullivan followed by a Grodzicki jumper set the final spread at six points.
“We’re playing hard — the effort and intensity have been there,” Russell said. “But our execution isn’t quite where it needs to be yet, which is understandable when you consider these kids have only played three games in the past 11 months.”
East Hampton will play its fourth game of the season Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Haddam-Killingworth. Cromwell will visit North Branford Thursday (6 p.m.).
EAST HAMPTON (3-0)
Meryl Curtin 0 0-0 0, Angela Mercaldi 3 6-10 12, Mya Field 0 6-7 6, Hannah Barrientos 5 1-2 12, Danielle Adams 3 0-0 6, Jackie Russell 0 2-2 2, Delaney Russell 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 15-21 38.
Marykate Sullivan 3 2-3 8, Jessica Grodzicki 1 2-4 4, Nevaeh Clark 0 1-2 1, Monica Dewey 0 3-4 3, Adela Cecunjanin 5 0-1 11, Likhita Chanda, 2 0-0 5, Cameryn Hickey 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 8-14 32.
Score By Quarters
EH 13 3 12 10—38
C 9 9 4 10—32
3-Pointers: EH—Barrientos 1; C—Chanda 1, Cecunjanin 1.