DANBURY -- After battling back and forth for 24 grueling minutes Friday night, the Danbury and Fairfield Warde girls basketball teams were tied entering the fourth quarter.
At that point, the previous three quarters' worth of ups and downs, hits and misses, was irrelevant. It all came down to which team could execute better in the final eight minutes with the pressure mounting.
And that fourth quarter belonged to Danbury.
Hatters junior forward Shannon Geary scored six of her eight points in the fourth quarter -- including a pivotal 4-for-4 effort from the foul line down the stretch -- as Danbury held off Warde for a 49-43 victory in a clash of FCIAC contenders.
"Before the game, we talked about staying composed and just going as hard as we could the whole game. It was a good win," said Rachel Gartner, Danbury's Boston College-bound senior guard who had scored her 1,000th career point in Thursday night's win at St. Joseph. Gartner scored 17 points and added six steals and two assists Friday to lead the Hatters to their 10th straight win.
The feisty Warde defense forced 14 Danbury turnovers in the first half alone. That helped the Mustangs build a two-point halftime lead, which they extended to five early in the third quarter. After seeing what worked and what didn't work in the first half, the Hatters made some adjustments at halftime that seemed to work. Danbury turned the ball over only six times in the second half and out-scored Warde 10-4 in the decisive fourth quarter.
"I told them, we have to find where their strengths are," Danbury coach Jackie DiNardo said, "and then we have to go find their weaknesses. They have a lot of strengths. They pinched the gap, and we work on that a lot. And when they're pinching the gap, you're not going to go through the gap. It's like trying to go through door. And we kept trying to go through that closed door. We had to get the defense out and be a little more patient and get the defense out in the middle so we could open the door."
Senior forward Kaitlin McKenna led Warde with 16 points. She scored all nine of the Mustangs' second-quarter points, but scored only five points in the second half as the Hatters adjusted their defense to try and shut her down.
Sophomore Sarah Cotto added 10 points for Warde, including a 3-pointer from the wing with 2:33 remaining which cut the Hatters' lead to five, 47-42.
McKenna sank one of her two foul shots with 1:15 remaining to make it a four-point game, but that's as close as the Mustangs came. Kayla Handberry and Rebecca Gartner each sank a foul shot in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
"There's no moral victory here," Warde coach David Danko said. "We're a playoff team and we're looking to get better. It's a good win for Jackie's team, and my kids know they can play with any of these teams."
FAIRFIELD WARDE (10-3, 9-2)
Daja Polk 0 2-2 2; Lejla Markovic 2 0-0 5; Jacqui Lanese 0 0-0 0; Kaitlin McKenna 7 2-3 16; Iliana Krasniqi 2 0-0 4; Sarah Cotto 3 1-2 10; Tiara Fountain 2 0-0 6; Jenna Cetta 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 5-7 43.
DANBURY (11-1, 9-1)
Rachel Gartner 6 4-4 17; Shannon Geary 2 4-4 8; Rebecca Gartner 2 1-2 6; Allie Smith 6 0-0 16; Chloe Hennig 0 0-0 0; Kayla Handberry 0 2-4 2; Janine Kerr 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 11-14 49.
FAIRFIELD WARDE 17 9 13 4 -- 43
DANBURY 14 10 15 10 -- 49
3-pointers: FW--Cotto 3, Fountain 2, Markovic. D--Smith 2, Ra. Gartner, Re. Gartner.