When Brian Kerrigan's time with the Fairfield Warde boys basketball team comes to an end later this winter, the rugged senior forward will be lauded for his intensity in the paint, his tenacity on defense and his ability to lead the Mustangs with heart and passion no matter what's at stake.
Kerrigan will not, however, be remembered for his foul-shooting ability.
"I'm pretty inconsistent," Kerrigan admitted. "Some nights I'm on. Some nights I'm off."
For the majority of Tuesday night's battle against cross-town rival Ludlowe, Kerrigan was in the off position, missing all but one of his first seven attempts from the foul stripe. However, with the game resting on his broud shoulders with time winding down in overtime, Kerrigan was on when he needed to be.
Kerrigan nailed the second of two foul shots with 5.1 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Mustangs to a dramatic 47-46 overtime victory over the Falcons in front of a packed house at the Fairfield Warde gymnasium.
Ludlowe (4-11, 4-9 FCIAC) led 38-33 with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter only to have Warde come storming back to tie it in regulation on a nifty left-handed layup by sophomore Giacomo Brancato.
Warde had a 45-42 lead with 1:19 remaining in overtime, but Ludlowe forged a 46-46 tie with 33 seconds left on two foul shots by junior Chad Peterson, who had a solid game with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
After taking a timeout with 25 seconds left, Warde got the ball in the paint and Kerrigan was fouled on a putback attempt.
Kerrigan missed the first, but like a baseball player down to his last strike with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Kerrigan knew all he needed was one good one. That's exactly what he gave the Mustangs, who held on over the final seconds after Peterson's fall-away 3-pointer went off the front of the rim.
"The whole game I kind of let the crowd get in my head," Kerrigan said. "But I knew the team was relying on me, so I just tried to slow down my mind and concentrate. I knew I had to make that one."
Based on form, Warde head coach Ryan Swaller would have picked a number of other players to shoot critical foul shots. However, based on heart, there was no one else Swaller wanted on the line more than Kerrigan.
"He's tough all the time. He wants to be our leader and he is our leader," Swaller said. "He always steps in and does it vocally. Tonight he had a chance to do it at the line and he did what he needed to do."
Not only did Warde retain bragging rights against Ludlowe, also posting a 60-50 win against the Falcons in the Fairfield Holiday tournament, but came away with its first victory in the FCIAC. The Mustangs are now 2-13 overall and 1-12 in the FCIAC.
"It feels great. We've been competing with some of the best teams in the FCIAC for three quarters and we always lose it in one quarter," said Kerrigan, who finished with six points and 10 rebounds. "We knew we were capable of winning this game if we played hard for four quarters and that just what we did."
Warde wouldn't have done it without Brancato and senior swingman Nick Cotto, who combined to score 37 of the team's 47 points. Cotto kept the Mustangs going on the offensive end in the first half, scoring 14 of Warde's 24 first-half points, including two 3-pointers. Cotto finished with a game-high 21 points to go along with eight rebounds.
Brancato scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, finishing with 16 points. That included an 8-for-11 effort from the foul line and three straight points to make it 45-42 in the extra session.
"That's been another constant for us," Swaller said. "When those two are clicking on all cylinders, that's when we're competitive in our games. We have a better chance to win when those two are attacking the basket the way they did tonight."
The game featured a number of stout defensive runs by each team. Warde started by holding the Falcons to five points in the first quarter and a season-low 15 points in the first half, taking a 24-15 advantage into the intermission.
"We were expecting a close basketball game. They're not a bad basketball team. They play hard and they play even harder when the play us," Ludlowe head coach John Dailey said. "We picked the worst time to play the worst first half we played all season long."
Ludlowe turned the tables in the third quarter, holding the Mustangs to just three points and no field goals in the frame to take a 29-27 lead. Junior Darren Lee hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to give the Falcons their first lead of the night.
Warde came back with a 5-0 run to open the fourth to regain a 32-29 lead, but Ludlowe scored nine of the nest 10 points to go ahead 38-33. Senior point guard Mark Malone (nine points) ended the run with four straight foul shots.
But a conventional 3-point play by Cotto got the Mustangs back to within 38-36 with 57 seconds left in regulation and Warde used the momentum to pull out the victory.
"The same thing happened at Christmas. Their defense was terrific," Dailey said. "They were real physical with us. We knew it was coming. We were ready for it. We just didn't play the game-plan in the first half."
The ending written by Kerrigan at the foul line was quite ironic. Ludlowe had a great night at the foul line, going 18-for-23, while Warde struggled through a 13-for-26 performance.
"I had a feeling he was going to make at least one of those," Dailey said. "It would have been cruel if he didn't."
Warde 47, Ludlowe 46 (OT)
Matt Doyle 3 0-0 7 Mark Malone 2 4-4 9 Chad Peterson 2 7-9 11 Kevin Hickey 1 0-0 2 Hayes Kelchner 1 5-6 7 Chris Howell 2 0-2 5 Darren Lee 1 2-2 5 Jack Armstrong 0 0-0 0 Brendan Mockler 0 0-0 0 Kiran Prakash 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 18-23 46.
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 5 10 14 11 6--46
FAIRFIELD WARDE 9 15 3 13 7--47
3-pointers: L--Doyle, Malone, Howell, Lee; W--Cotto 2. Fouled out: L--Kelchner; W--Cotto.