Pictured: East Hampton senior forward Angela Mercaldi encourages her teammates during their Shoreline tournament semifinal win over Old Lyme on Wednesday.

By Paul Augeri

EAST HAMPTON – Maybe it was by design, Angela Mercaldi sitting apart from her East Hampton teammates during their semifinal game against Old Lyme in the Shoreline Conference tournament.

It was an odd sight, knowing Mercaldi and fellow senior starters Danielle Adams, Mya Field, Meryl Curtin and Hannah Barrientos have played together in some way since long before middle school.

The Bellringers huddled without her, took the court without her, and ultimately won without her Thursday night, 40-33 over the Wildcats, to secure a second straight trip to the Shoreline championship game.

East Hampton will defend its title Friday at home against Morgan (5pm), and it will take everything the unbeaten Bellringers have to do it without their top all-around player and vocal leader. They have won 27 straight, although their quarterfinal against Portland was unexpectedly close and the Old Lyme game was a dogfight at times.

Mercaldi, who was an All-State and All-Shoreline performer last season, tore the ACL in her right knee in the final minute of the team’s final game of the regular season, ending her East Hampton career. Surgery is scheduled for next week. She also will miss her final outdoor track season, but she is expected to recover in time to compete in the long jump and triple jump in 2022 at the University of New Haven.

“I do know that basketball-wise they (the seniors) care about each other. They all want to keep playing,” East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said after Thursday’s game, “and some of that is certainly for each other. And I think that every one of them knows that because Angela can’t be out there right now, that’s very painful for her and I think they carry some of that with them, sure. They’re human beings who’ve been friends for a long time and have played together for a long time, and I think in their minds they dreamed of the five of them ending it on the court.”

On Friday, the Bellringers will be playing for her as much for themselves in Friday’s final.

“I know I personally, I used to look to her every night. She set me up with almost every pass I got,” Field, recognizing that the two have played basketball together since the age of 6, said. “We are a great duo out there. Without her, we really look for someone to lead. All of us are taking responsibility without her. She’s cheering on the sideline, but there’s only so much she can do to help us.

“We really need to take it upon ourselves — get everything set up on offense and defense, make the right passes — and end up finishing for her. It’s really important. It’s so sad knowing how her season ended. Angela is one of the best players I’ve ever played with. So it’s really hard not to see her finish this, but I’m going to win it for her.”

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