FAIRFIELD — It was an epic battle from start to finish.

Trumbull, the number one team in the FCIAC West, went against Warde, the top team in the FCIAC East, battling to control the league’s overall No. 1 seed heading toward tournament play. And like any epic battle, the outcome was going to come down to one game-breaking play.

And it was Trumbull’s John McElroy who made it.

Down a point with just under a minute to play in the third overtime, the senior co-captain drove to the basket to compete a three-point play, giving the Eagles a two-point lead and added a final free throw with 5.5 seconds left as Trumbull rallied to capture an 86-81 win Friday night at the Mustangs gym.

“That was a battle, we really had to battle tonight. That’s a good Warde team,” Trumbull coach Buddy Bray said. “They’re very talented and they had some kids step up for them and play very well. But it was a great road win for us. We hung in there, made our free throws. It was a great basketball game.”

The win, Trumbull’s 10th straight, gives the Eagles a 15-1 record overall and an 11-1 mark in the FCIAC. Warde dropped to 13-3 overall, 9-3 in the FCIAC.

“I’m proud of my guys,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “The fight we had throughout … we were always in a position to tie the game or come up with a big shot and that’s what good teams do. We had so many guys come up with big shots … Jackson Longley, Rashad Butler. J.J. Conway, Malcolm Brune, each guy came through. You couldn’t ask for more.”

Especially when two of the Mustangs’ better players were sitting in the stands in street clothes. Senior swingman Giacomo Brancato and brother Antonio, a junior guard, quit the team before Tuesday’s game against Stamford over an alleged lack of playing time for Antonio. Their status for the rest of the season is still uncertain.

Meanwhile, the controversy has bonded the other Mustang players.

“We’ve been talking about being together as one … a team,” Warde guard Marcel Parsons said. “We want to play as one. Everyone’s in this together, we’re all doing it together and we’re moving forward together.”

Warde opened a quick 9-0 lead and took a 13-5 cushion after one. The Mustangs led 26-24 at halftime and 41-36 after three quarters, but 13 straight points from J.J. Pfohl over a four-minute span in the fourth quarter gave Trumbull its first lead of the night, 51-50, with 3:06 left in regulation. The Eagles led 54-51 with just under a minute to play, but Warde’s Butler nailed a 3-pointer with 41 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

Brune’s put-back with 10.3 seconds left tied the game at 63 and forced overtime No. 2. Trailing 74-71, it was Warde’s JJ Conway who made a 3-pointer with seven seconds left to send it to a third overtime.

“Guys like Malcolm, Rashad, Jackson, they all really stepped up,” Parsons said. “They’re the ones that push us in practice every single day. They’re going to get the majority of the minutes from now on, so it’s great to have guys like that to step up.”

A 3-pointer from Sean Conway gave Warde an 81-80 lead with 1:44 left in OT No. 3, but McElroy drove for a three-point play with 48.4 left. Then two free throws from Williams with 15 seconds to go and another from McElroy with 5.5 left finally gave Trumbull the win

“We never stopped fighting down the stretch,” said McElroy, who scored 15 points. “We made free throws when we had to and we got the crucial stops when we needed them. We just come out hard every game ready to play and we work really hard.”

Pfohl paced Trumbull with 24 points with Williams adding 21. Dan Ruchalski had 11. For Warde, Conway had 20 to lead the Mustangs, with Sean Conway scoring 18 and Brune scoring 16. Parsons had nine and Butler and Longley each had seven.

“It all came down to one or two possessions. It could have gone either way,” Swaller said. “I think people might have been surprised by some of our guys tonight but we’re not. We’re just trying to figure out the new roles. We had a lot of guys step up.”

celsberry@ctpost.com

TRUMBULL 86, WARDE 81 (3 OT)

TRUMBULL (15-1, 11-1 FCIAC West)

Josh Lynch 3 1-1 7, Jake Cappello 1 0-0 3, Dan Ruchalski 3 5-5 11, Chris Brown 1 1-2 3, John McElroy 6 3-6 15, J.J. Pfohl 7 6-10 24, Timmond Williams 6 8-11 21, Ryan Roberto 0 2-2 2. Totals: 27 26-37 86

WARDE (13-3, 9-3 FCIAC East)

JJ Conway 6 6-7 20, Matt Becker 0 0-0 0, Sean Conway 8 0-0 18, Rashad Butler 3 0-0 7, Marcel Parsons 4 0-0 9, Jackson Longley 3 0-2 7, Malcolm Brune 7 2-2 16, Jaylen Jennett 2 0-0 4. Totals: 33 8-11 81

TRUMBULL 5 19 12 18 9 11 12 — 86

WARDE 13 13 15 13 9 11 7 — 81

3-pointers: W — JJ Conway 2, S. Conway 2, Butler, Parsons, Longley; T — Cappello, Pfohl 4, Williams

Fouled out: W — Parsons, Brune; T — Pfohl