Pictured: A familiar sight — East Hampton players with the Shoreline Conference championship trophy and banner. The Bellringers have won the last three titles. (Photo by Lucille Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
CLINTON – East Hampton girls basketball coach Shaun Russell was recently named the Shoreline Conference’s coach of the year.
After his top-seeded Bellringers registered a 44-28 win over No. 3 Valley Regional in Saturday night’s Shoreline tournament championship game, securing their third straight conference title, Russell has probably become the odds-on favorite to win the league’s coach of the decade award, if they ever get around to creating one.
Russell not only guided the Bellringers to their fourth straight title game appearance but he did so with a team that lost five veteran starters – most of whom had been starters since their freshman season – to graduation last spring and has relied heavily this year on a handful of sophomores and two outstanding freshmen.
“We’ve had our ups and downs this year, we had a fairly steep learning curve at the beginning of the season,” he said. “But this team showed up for practice every day, worked hard and kept on improving as the season wore on.
“Tonight they were very prepared, very focused,” he added. “They were aggressive and determined, especially on defense and on the defensive boards.”
A big factor behind the team’s outstanding work ethic, according to Russell, was the leadership of the team’s two seniors, Madison Yorker and Liz MacDonald, whom he called the “backbone” of the squad.
The win improves East Hampton’s record to 21-2 on the year while Valley, which was trying to win the conference title for the first time, drops to 19-4. Both teams will now head to the CIAC Class M tournament.
East Hampton’s clinging, man-to-man defense held the explosive Warriors to just six points in the first quarter, two in the second, and four in the third while limiting Valley’s ace sharpshooter, Abby Bradbury, to six points on the night.
“We were prepared to use a zone because Valley can be a tough team to defend man-to-man for an entire game,” Russell said. “But because of the way the game unfolded, we felt comfortable staying in our man-to-man.”
Bradbury – who was covered mostly by Jordan Murphy and freshman Olivia DeMartino – opened the scoring with a pretty drive through the lane.
East Hampton then scored the next five in a row, before Olivia Cunningham scored from underneath and Bradbury buried a jumper from the top of the key to give Valley its last lead of the game at 6-5 with 2:14 left in the quarter.
East Hampton freshman Liana Salamone – who was voted First Team All Shoreline along with Bradbury in a ceremony before the start of the game — put the Bellringers back in front with a pair of free throws and followed that with a jumper from the foul line to make it 9-6. Sophomore Jackie Russell then closed out the quarter by hitting a layup with three seconds left off a pretty feed from Amber Murphy to make it 11-6 after eight minutes of play.
Two crisp passes by DeMartino that led to layups by Madison Yorker and Murphy, sandwiched around a short jumper by Salamone, extended the Bellringer lead to 17-6 with less than 30 seconds to play in the half.
Siena Schaller’s short jumper with 14 seconds left cut the Warrior deficit to 17-8 and ended a 10-minute Valley drought during which they were outscored 12-0.
A drive through the lane by Salamone re-established East Hampton’s 11- point lead, at 19-8, at the half.
Four points by DeMartino, two free throws by Salamone as well as an assist that led to a Jordan Murphy layup enabled East Hampton to score the first eight points of the third quarter to take full control of the game at 27-8 at the 2:41 mark.
To their credit, the Warriors fought back, scoring the last four points of the quarter on buckets by Olivia Cunningham and Lily Grow to make it 27-12 after three quarters of play.
Consecutive hoops by the two freshmen – Salamone and DeMartino – extended the Bellringers’ lead to 31-12 over the first minute and a half of the final quarter, but a three-point play by Ava Cunningham helped Valley score eight in a row to close to within 11 at 31-20 with 3:47 left.
But that was as close as the Warriors were able to get. The Bellringers hit 11 free throws in the final three and a half minutes, including eight in a row in the final 1:15 to close out their win.
Salamone – who missed her first free throw of the night and then buried 11 in a row – led all scorers with 19 while DeMartino added 8, Jackie Russell chipped in with 7 and Jordan Murphy added 6.
“We practice our foul shooting for 10 minutes every day,” Salamone said, adding that the team spends “a whole lot of time” every day working on its defense.
“I’m just overwhelmed, I’m so excited,” she said. “It feels so good to win this game with these teammates. My teammates are really my best friends.”
“We played real well together and we were able to build up a pretty good lead,” she added. ”And once we got that lead we just kept playing with even more energy.”
Olivia Cunningham led the Warriors with 7 points while her sister, Ava, and Bradbury had 6 apiece.
“We had our opportunities, especially early in the game, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Valley coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt said. “I had no problem with our effort – we played our butts off, but we just couldn’t make any shots.
“And East Hampton did a great job on the defensive boards, limiting us to just one shot for most of the night.”
VALLEY REGIONAL (19-4)
Liz Allen 1 0 3, Ava Cunningham 2 1 6, Olivia Cunningham 3 1 7, Abby Bradbury 2 2 6, Lily Grow 1 0 2, Liz Klomp 1 0 2, Siena Schaller 1 0 2. Totals: 11 4 28.
EAST HAMPTON (21-2)
Olivia DeMartino 3 2 8, Jordan Murphy 2 2 6, Liana Salamone 4 11 19, Jackie Russell 2 3 7, Madison Yorker 1 0 2, Amber Murphy 1 0 2, Delaney Russell 0 0 0.. Totals: 13 18 44.
Score By Quarters
Valley Regional…6 2 4 16–28
East Hampton…11 8 8 17–44
3-pointers: Valley–Allen 1, Ava Cunningham 1.