As the Fairfield Ludowe girls basketball team gears up for the start of play in the FCIAC tournament this weekend as an on-paper underdog, coach Sarah Huntington can turn to the first half of Wednesday's game with visiting Danbury as a reason to believe anything can happen. Or she can just point to a recent win over the Falcons' likely opening-round opponent, Wilton, as evidence that the seedings don't mean much of anything.
Ludlowe hung tight -- trailed only 28-26 -- at halftime before the FCIAC's top-seeded Danbury Hatters pulled away for a 57-42 triumph in Fairfield. With the loss, Huntington was confident her team would settle in as the No. 7 seed in the tourney and thus earn a first-round game against No. 2 Wilton.
The Falcons appeared poised to be in position to pull off an upset of the Hatters, whose records improved to 16-1 in conference play and 18-1 overall with one game to play. Ludlowe finished the regular season at 13-5 in the FCIAC (15-5 overall). Only a few wins separate most of the field in the FCIAC.
"This is awesome for our conference. On any given night anybody can beat anybody," Huntington said.
"It was definitely a good effort. We just couldn't get our offense rolling," said Huntington, adding that Danbury's size advantage caused problems for the Falcons. Ludlowe didn't get many rebounds and, as a result, didn't have a chance to score many second-chance points.
Danbury switched from a zone defense to a man-to-man, and that seemed to help the Hatters seize control.
"I think Jackie DiNardo knows our offense better than we do," Huntington said of Danbury's coach and the Hatters' ability to stymie the Falcons.
It didn't hurt that the Hatters shot particularly well in the third and fourth quarters, either. Standout twins combined to do much of the damage, with Rebecca and Rachel Gartner each piling up points in one of the halves. Rebecca poured in 15 of her 21 points in the opening half; her sister scored all 13 of hers after the break.
"They got hot in the third quarter," Ludlowe senior Julia vonEhr said. "I think we got our bearings back a little bit in the end but it was too little too late."
Huntington said the Falcons came out of the gates looking good but succumbed to a defeatist attitude once the Falcons saw the Hatters begin to pull away.
"I think Ludlowe just has to believe in Ludlowe. We've got the tools" Huntington said.
Danbury pulled ahead 41-33 after three quarters and never looked back. In the fourth quarter, a nice play by Regan Steed to save the ball along the baseline set up a Pauline Blatt basket that pulled Ludlowe within 45-38 with 3:30 to play. But the Falcons got no closer.
"We've got a big target on our back," said DiNardo, adding that her team tends to get all it can handle from opponents in the first half, then puts things together and pulls away late. "As long as we keep doing that, we're happy."
It was Senior Night and vonEhr said the team's goal was first and foremost to have fun. "I think we did just that," she said. "Obviously we would have been a lot happier -- a lot better off -- if we won."
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter