EAST HAVEN — The last time East Haven and Career met, it was in a totally different setting and the game meant a lot more.
Back on March 17, East Haven won the CIAC Class M state championship, its first state crown, on Bella Ragaini’s buzzer beater at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Some of the key players on both teams have graduated, but the intensity was still there Friday night as East Haven (2-0 and ranked No. 2 in the New Haven Register / GameTimeCT poll) downed Career 53-33 in a Southern Connecticut Conference interdivisional girls’ basketball contest.
“New players and we have freshmen getting a lot of minutes,” said East Haven and point guard Makenzie Helms, who led all scorers with 20 points. “I think we’re doing pretty well with them so far.”
After a sloppy 6-6 first quarter in which both teams missed a bunch of shots and turned over the ball, the Yellowjackets put a lot of pressure on Career in the backcourt and that turned the tide.
“I thought a lot of times we were reaching and they would go by us,” East Haven coach Anthony Russell said. “We tried to make the adjustment by keeping them in front of us and making their guards make plays.”
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Nally Sahin, who has been coaching Career in place of suspended head coach Steve Bethke since the season began, admitted that the Panthers had trouble with getting the ball into the frontcourt.
“Our kids struggled a little bit with basic ball-handling,” Sahin said. “The pressure was really in our face.”
East Haven went on an 8-0 run closed out by a bucket by Alannah Doheny with 5:08 before halftime to take a 14-6 lead.
“The first quarter we didn’t hit shots, but in the second and third quarter we did,” Russell said. “That made us more comfortable in our offensive sets.”
Agdielys Alicia hit a runner in the lane to close Career (1-1) to within 16-11, but a 9-3 spurt by the Yellowjackets led by Alexis Pendziwater with five points gave the hosts a 25-14 lead at the break.
“We had a lot of easy opportunities to put the ball away, but we just didn’t finish,” Sahin said.
East Haven extended its lead in the third quarter with a layup by Angelina Munoz giving the Yellowjackets a 34-21 lead.
A pair of 3-pointers by Pendziwater (10 points) and Helms in the fourth quarter and a bucket by Ragaini really broke the game wide open as East Haven took a 47-27 edge with 5:46 to play.
The Yellowjackets took their biggest lead, 51-30, with 2:48 when Helms nailed a baseline layup.
Next up on a brutal early season schedule for East Haven is No. 3 New London Tuesday night.
“We’re not thinking about winning a division, the conference or winning the state,” Russell said. “We’re concerned with beating New London Tuesday. As long as we take baby steps, I think we’ll be all right and not look so far into the future.”
East Haven 53, Career Magnet 33
Career Magnet (1-1-0) 6 8 7 12 — 33
East Haven (2-0-0) 6 19 9 19 — 53
Career Magnet (1-1-0)
Carmen Rosemond 1 1 1-3 3, Kayla Emery 2 0 6-8 10, Arkaysee Booker 3 0 4-5 10, Nicole Washington 1 0 2-6 4, Agdielys Alicea 3 0 0-0 6
East Haven (2-0-0)
Makenzie Helms 4 2 6-6 20, Erin Curran 0 1 0-0 3, Angelina Munoz 3 0 0-0 6, Isabella Ragaini 2 0 1-2 5, Alexis Pendziwater 2 2 0-0 10, Taylor Salato 1 1 2-2 4, Kate Pycela 1 1 0-0 5