Pictured: East Hampton’s Olivia DeMartino looks for space to dribble past Cromwell defender Jessica Grodzicki during Tuesday’s Shoreline Conference showdown. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

By Marc Silvestrini
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

CROMWELL – Communication is often a key but greatly under-appreciated element of winning basketball.

This is particularly true on defense where the shouting out of picks and switches among teammates often leads to quicker reactions and better movement and positioning.

Tuesday night’s Shoreline Conference girls basketball showdown between Cromwell and East Hampton was a tight, taut, back-and-forth thriller through the first two quarters of play. But Cromwell’s defense limited the Bellringers to no field goals and just three points in the third quarter and only 10 points in the second half to pave the way to a 47-30 Panthers win.

“We didn’t do a lot of talking on defense in the first half. We were much too quiet,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “But in the second half we did a much better job of talking to each other and pressuring the ball.

“I thought the most important factors in the second half were that our offense played with a little more patience and we were talking a lot more on defense.”

Nevaeh Clark has the advantage on this drive to the basket Tuesday night. Cromwell beat East Hampton 47-30. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

The Panthers’ win at Jake Salafia Gymnasium avenges a 44-38 loss to the Bellringers in late December and improves Cromwell’s record to 12-2 on the year and a league-leading 10-1 in Shoreline play.

The Bellringers drop to 14-2 on the season and 12-2 in conference play. Valley Regional (14-2 overall), a winner Tuesday over Haddam-Killingworth, is also in the race for the top seed in the conference tournament, which starts Feb. 19.

Cromwell outscored their guests 10-8 in the second quarter to turn a 12-11 Bellringers lead after one quarter of play into a 21-20 halftime lead.

East Hampton took its early lead behind the shooting of sophomore, Jackie Russell who scored eight straight Bellringer points in the quarter and a late jumper from the corner by Jordan Murphy that broke a 10-10 tie.

A layup by Cameryn Hickey off a pretty feed from Nevaeh Clark, a putback from underneath by Adela Cecunjanin that resulted in a three-point play and a deep 3-pointer by Grace Mikan enabled the Panthers to surge to a 19-16 lead midway through the second quarter.

But five points in a row by East Hampton’s outstanding freshman guard Liana Salamone gave the visitors a 20-19 lead with 36 seconds left in the half. But Jessica Grodzicki converted a Cecunjanin pass into a layup with 9 seconds to go to give the Panthers their one-point halftime lead.

Clark opened the second half with a pair of buckets on a drive to the hoop and a steal and length-of-the-court drive, while teammates Kayla Nappi and Grodzicki also converted steals on the Bellringers’ end to layups at the other end of the floor to help the home team outscore East Hampton 15-3 in the quarter en route to a 36-23 advantage.

All of East Hampton’s third-quarter points came on free throws by Salamone.

The Panthers sealed the deal by outscoring the Bellringers 11-7 in the final quarter. Clark, with six points, and Grodzicki, with four, scored all but one of Cromwell’s 11 points in the quarter.

Clark paced the Panther attack with 13 points and 6 rebounds while Grodzicki added 12 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Cecunjanin had 9 points and 8 rebounds.

Jackie Russell finished with 13 points to pace the Bellringers while Salamone finished with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists.

“We’re a young team that’s still developing, and tonight was a night when our youth and inexperience was a little more evident,” said East Hampton coach Shaun Russell, who started two freshmen and a sophomore. “I thought our effort was good, I thought everyone tried to do the right things on the court, but we really struggled to make baskets in that second half.

“Usually when we have that kind of trouble on offense we eventually right the ship and figure out how to get the ball to the right people, but tonight we couldn’t get things turned around.

“Cromwell has a very nice team and they played to their strengths tonight,” Russell concluded. “They’re just a difficult team to chase down from behind.”

Things won’t get a whole lot easier for the Panthers, as their schedule calls for two conference road games on Thursday and Friday against Valley Regional and North Branford, followed by a non-conference home game against Canton on Saturday.

East Hampton has a non-conference game at Parish Hill on Wednesday night and a road game against on Friday against Haddam-Killingworth.

EAST HAMPTON (14-2)
Olivia DeMartino 1 0 2, Jordan Murphy 1 0 2, Delaney Russell 0 1 1, Liana Salamone 2 6 10, Jackie Russell 5 1 13, Madison Yorker 0 0 0, Mikeala Rich 1 0 2. Totals: 10 8 30.

CROMWELL (12-2)
Nevaeh Clark 4 4 13, Grace Mikan 1 0 3, Jessica Grodzicki 3 6 12, Adela Cecunjanin 3 2 9, Cameryn Hickey 2 1 5, Kayla Nappi 1 0 2, Brynn Kovacs 1 0 3. Totals: 15 13 47.

Score By Quarters
East Hampton…12   8   3 7–30
Cromwell………..11 10 15 11-47

3-pointers: East Hampton– J. Russell 2; Cromwell–Clark 1, Mikan 1, Cecunjanin 1, Kovacs 1.

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