Pictured: East Hampton point guard Meryl Curtin (right) advances the ball as Coginchaug’s Amalia DeMartino defends in Monday night’s Shoreline Conference game in Durham.
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM – Anyone who thinks defense is a trivial, inconsequential aspect of the game of basketball should watch the East Hampton girls team play, even for a few minutes.
The Bellringers, who defeated Coginchaug 34-21 Monday night in Shoreline Conference play, can put a bunch of good scorers and rebounders on the floor at any given time, and they keep winning.
East Hampton is a Shoreline-best 7-0 because of its defense.
Against Coginchaug, the Bellringers, playing mostly a 2-3 zone, held the Blue Devils to three points in the first half and kept them from scoring a basket until the final 90 seconds of the third quarter.
That’s 22 and a half minutes of play without a single field goal, even though Coginchaug has one of the Shoreline’s premier players in NCAA Division I-bound center Jessica Berens.
“We did a good job on defense. I was pleased with our effort on that end,” East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said. “We had a good plan to contain Berens and I thought we did a nice job of fully committing to that plan.”
Calling Berens a “quality player,” Russell said East Hampton’ scheme was to try and limit her effectiveness by making it difficult for her teammates to feed her the ball in the low post.
“We tried to limit her touches in close where she’s very good and very dangerous,” he said.
Senior Mya Field agreed that East Hampton’s defense was the key to the game’s outcome.
“Our main goal was to stay in front of Jessica, and we did that fairly well,” she said.
When asked if she was excited with the Bellringers’ undefeated start, Field never hesitated in pointing out that the team still had room to improve.
“Our record is good, but we’re really not where we want to be yet,” she said. “We’re not quite there yet, but I do think we’re making pretty good progress.”
Though Berens finished with 14 points to lead all scorers, 11 came in the final quarter, which East Hampton entered with a 30-7 lead.
Sophomore Chloe Shafir was Coginchaug’s next-highest scorer with four points.
Four Bellringers – Field, Meryl Curtin, Angela Mercaldi and Hannah Barrientos – shared team scoring honors with eight points apiece, while Danielle Adams collected eight rebounds.
In this 12-game regular season, East Hampton has a one-game lead on Old Lyme (6-1) in the Shoreline. The Wildcats won their sixth straight on Monday, 56-40 over Morgan (5-2).
Coginchaug fell to 4-2 with its second straight defeat.
East Hampton began the game by outscoring Coginchaug 7-0 over the first quarter behind three points each by Field and Mercaldi.
Three straight free throws by Curtin early in the second quarter increased the lead to 10-0 before Berens hit a free throw with 6:23 to play in the half to score her team’s first point of the night. After a pair of free throws by Coginchaug’s Amalia DeMartino cut East Hampton’s lead to 12-3 with just over three minutes to play in the half, Field converted a three-point play and Mercaldi scored on a drive through the lane to give the visitors a 17-3 halftime lead.
A 3-point bomb by Mercaldi and four straight points by Barrientos built the Bellringer lead to 24-3 over the first five minutes of the third quarter, which ended with East Hampton sitting on a 30-7 advantage.
Coginchaug, however, showed plenty of resolve and resilience by fighting back to outscore the Bellringers 14-4 over the game’s final eight minutes.
“I asked them to play hard in the fourth quarter so that we could at least go out on a positive note and have some momentum going into our next game,” Coginchaug coach Chris Watson said. “And they did do that.
“They (East Hampton) had a good plan on defense – a plan that I expected, to be honest,” he said. “But we killed ourselves by not making any shots, even when we did get open looks.”
Watson added that East Hampton is a difficult team to come back on once the Bellringers have taken the lead because of their ability to rebound and play defense and impart their offensive style.
“The number one thing when you play East Hampton is that you can’t fall behind,” he said. “They’re very good at limiting your opportunities to get back in the game because they play a very deliberate offensive game, which takes a lot of time off the clock, and they never turn the ball over.”
Coginchaug will look to get back to its winning ways tonight when the Blue Devils visit Portland. They will play their third game of this week on Thursday when they host Haddam-Killingworth. The Bellringers host winless Westbrook on Thursday.
EAST HAMPTON (7-0)
Meryl Curtin 1 6-7 8, Jackie Russell 1 0-0 2, Angela Mercaldi 3 0-0 8, Mya Field 3 2-7 8, Hannah Barrientos 3 2-2 8, Danielle Adams 0 0-2 0. Totals: 11 10-18 34.
Chloe Shafir 1 2-2 4, Katie Farr 0 1-2 1, Alyssa Woodward 0 0-0 0, Jessica Berens 6 2-3 14, Amalia DeMartino 0 2-4 2, Maura Zettergren 0 0-0 0. Totals: 7 7-11 21.
Score By Quarters
EH 7 10 13 4–34
C 0 3 4 13–21
3-Pointers: EH–Mercaldi 2.