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Article Published February 28, 2021

Easties Notch Their First Two Victories of the Season

By By Dan Fappiano

The East Haven girls’ basketball team recently enjoyed a winning week that saw the Yellowjackets pick up their first two victories of the season. The Easties earned wins versus Cheshire and Hamden to go with a loss against Sheehan last week, improving their record to 2-5 on the year.

East Haven started off its week by posting a 60-56 home win over Cheshire on Feb. 23. The very next day, the Yellowjackets played a road game against Sheehan and took a 43-32 defeat. The Easties wrapped up their week by claiming a 47-39 victory versus Hamden in a home game for their second win this winter.

After missing the first few games of the season, senior captain forward Taylor Salato returned to the court for East Haven last week, helping the Yellowjackets defeat Cheshire in their first game of the slate. East Haven went on a 7-0 run heading into halftime and held a 43-29 lead at the break. Cheshire stormed back with a 12-0 run at the start of the third quarter and cut the deficit to 45-43 entering the fourth. Led by seven points from Salato, East Haven started the final frame on a 9-0 run and went on to win the contest by a 60-56 score.

“She has been a starter for two years now and saw good minutes as a freshman. She’s a great interior presence and that helps our perimeter players,” Head Coach Anthony Russell said of Salato. “When we didn’t have her, they could focus on our shooters, and we really didn’t have much of an inside game. Now that she’s back, we’re a little bit more balanced, we’re a little bit deeper, and we’re starting to play a lot better, too. It’s great to have her back.”

Salato wound up scoring 26 points in East Haven’s win versus Cheshire. Senior captain guard Erin Curran had 14 points for the Yellowjackets.

The victory marked the first one of the season for East Haven this year. Coach Russell said that he is beginning to see some momentum for the 2021 edition of the Easties.

“It was nice. We’ve been on the other end of some games. We had a close one against West Haven the game before. I’m really seeing an upward trajectory with the kids. It’s the type of stuff you want to see happen throughout a season,” said Russell. “We progressively have been playing better and better. We’re starting to move in the right direction. We just have to do it quicker than in year’s past. I like where we’re going.”

East Haven played its second game of the week when the team faced undefeated Sheehan on the road on Feb. 24. The game was tied 25-25 heading into halftime, but the Titans outscored the Yellowjackets 18-7 in the second half to come away with a 43-32 win.

Salato scored 12 points for East Haven in the game. Junior forward Teresa Vitello and sophomore guard Gabriella Gaetano each added six points.

Despite the loss, Coach Russell said that he was impressed with how his team played against one of the top squads in the Southern Connecticut Conference. Russell feels hopeful that the Yellowjackets’ performance against Sheehan shows them that they can compete with anyone in the SCC.

“There wasn’t much I could have asked of them. We were tied at halftime. We were right there,” said Russell. “We made a few bad decisions and a few turnovers in a few critical spots. It really could have went the other way. But they’re a great team, well-coached. The fact we were in that game with them, it should tell us that there’s nobody in the conference we can’t play against. We just have to play a bit more consistent.”

The Easties finished up their week with a home matchup against Hamden on Feb. 26. East Haven was trailing 23-21 at halftime, but entered the fourth quarter sporting a two-point advantage. The Yellowjackets went on to outscore the Green Dragons 18-10 in the final frame to earn a 47-39 win.

Salato scored 20 points for East Haven to help the team emerge victorious. Freshman forward Juliana Iovino scored 12 points, junior guard Kyle Pycela had nine points, and Curran added seven points in the win.

“We’ve been a press team and ran pressure defenses for the last six or seven years. Now, we’re adjusting. We’re still running, but defensively, we’re playing a lot more zone,” Coach Russell said. “Defensively, we did our job. We came out in the third quarter and got a few baskets and started to play with a little more confidence.”

Russell commended the play of forwards Iovino, Vitello, and sophomore Alice Stettinger in Salato’s absence. Upon her return, Salato was Yellowjackets’ leading scorer in all three games last week. While having Salato back has been crucial for East Haven’s post presence, Coach Russell said the return of the All-SCC and All-State honoree is benefiting the team’s guards just as much. Russell was pleased to see players like Curran, Gaetano, Pycela, junior Tanner Punzo, sophomore Arielle Dupree, and freshman Gianna Castellano step up last week. He said that those players are continuing to grow on both the offensive and defensive side of the court.

“They all seem to be doing a little bit more. Our guard play is getting better and better, and we’re getting deeper and deeper at the position, which is good. It could affect the way we approach teams defensively if we can start playing more kids,” said Russell. “Our guard play is improving. They’re comfortable playing against zone and getting more comfortable playing against man. Hopefully, we can get them where they’re comfortable facing both.”

Coach Russell said the Yellowjackets are looking at the season as two separate two halves. After seeing some struggles early on, East Haven is off to a strong start to the second half of its campaign. As his team enters the home stretch, Russell wants the Easties keep putting in the work and continue to strive for consistency as they look to climb toward the top of the SCC.

“What we did was kind of chop the season in half. The last three games, we played pretty well,” Russell said. “We wanted to make this second half look a little bit different than the first half. You can see it now. They get into practice, and the routine is there. They’re starting to understand how we do things, how we run the offense and defense. They’re really into it. I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think we can play with anybody in our league.”