Sitting on six wins, the opportunities for more are getting fewer as the schedule gets shorter for the East Hampton girls’ basketball team.
In need of two victories to reach the magic number of eight to qualify for the postseason, Haddam-Killingworth seemingly presented the Bellringers with a chance at win number seven on Thursday night. The Cougars, after all, had lost four in a row and seven of nine. On Jan. 13, they had to fight from behind on their home court to edge East Hampton, 40-38.
So, with only four games remaining and Coginchaug and Morgan looming, East Hampton took the court realizing the stakes were high and a victory would clear a big hurdle on its path to the postseason.
It didn’t happen.
Haddam-Killingworth more resembled the team that started the season with five wins in a row as it took an early lead, never trailed, and rolled to a workmanlike 42-27 victory in East Hampton.
Tori Peterson scored six first-quarter points to help stake the Cougars to a 12-8 lead. It was what happened near the end of the quarter, however, that played a factor in how this game would evolve.
With H-K playing for the final shot, East Hampton’s Sarah Denihan hit the floor hard after taking a charge. Denihan lay on the court for several minutes while being tended to before being helped into the locker room.
“When you talk about taking a charge, she took one,” East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said.
It was the kind of play you’ve come to expect from East Hampton’s senior point guard. Gutty, instinctive, selfless. Standing her ground with a bigger player coming at her, Denihan paid a price and H-K quickly cashed in.
The Cougars did what good teams do, they seized the opportunity and went on an 8-0 run. Five of the points came from Shaina Rowley in the first minute of the second quarter. Rowley converted a steal into a layup in the opening seconds. Fouled on the play, she hit the free throw for a 15-8 lead. She scored again on a baseline drive to make it 17-8. Later, Shawna Sqwarek scored underneath and was fouled for another three-point play and a 20-8 advantage.
H-K (8-7) took a 24-12 lead into halftime, holding East Hampton (6-11) to four points on free throws in the quarter.
The Bellringers opened the second half with a basket from Leah Coughlin on a nice bounce pass from Ashley Chasse. Down 24-14, they had a chance to get closer but a three-point attempt from Klaudia Komarnicka rimmed out. A layup by Rowley followed to make it 26-14 and East Hampton would get no closer the rest of the game.
Cleared to play by medical staff, Denihan finally returned with 3:56 remaining in the third quarter and East Hampton trailing, 30-16. The Bellringers scored eight points in the 12-plus minutes she was out.
“She said she banged her head on the floor and that’s how they treated it,” Russell said. “Held her out for awhile. When she was symptom free and seemed OK they said we could give it a try and see how she felt. It seemed like she felt OK when she got back in there.”
With the victory, Haddam-Killingworth ended that four game skid and qualified for the postseason.
“This was definitely important for us to get back on track,” H-K coach Jim Bombaci said. “We knew it was going to be tough because we only won by two the first time. I’m real happy with my girls and how they performed. They worked hard.”
Bombaci wasn’t too interested in looking ahead, saying only, “One at a time.”
The Cougars were led by Rowley’s 11 points. Peterson had 10 and Kiley Anderson added eight.
Denihan still managed to lead East Hampton in scoring with eight points, six of which came after her return. Adrianna Zawodniak scored seven.
“They left it out there, I’ve got no complaints with that,” Russell said. “Every one of them played as hard as they could play tonight. Just didn’t have enough in the finishing phase of the game. We didn’t finish enough around the rim. Couldn’t put the ball in the basket. Gave up a little too much, too close, to keep the score in a manageable, workable spot.”
East Hampton has a week to prepare for its next game, which is against Coginchaug. Morgan and Valley Regional round out the remainder of the regular season schedule. If the Bellringers are to make the postseason, the challenge is clear.
“We got three games left and we have to win two of them or the season is over,” Russell said. “That’s where we’re at. We’re aware of it. We’ve discussed it.”
Haddam-Killingworth plays at Weston on Saturday.