Fans at Friday night's match between Fairfield Ludlowe and Fairfield Warde at Taft Field were treated to an intense contest between rivals who were determined to earn a signature conference win. In the end, Ludlowe emerged with the win thanks to its outstanding defensive play and a clutch goal from senior Rebecca Girouard.

Girouard scored in the 26th minute of the second half when she found the ball during a scrum in the goalmouth and knocked it past Mustangs' senior goalkeeper Carly Strachan. Warde made a valiant comeback effort in the final few minutes, but was unable to score thanks to two brilliant saves by sophomore goalkeeper Caroline Serniak.

The Falcons improved to 5-4-0 overall and in the FCIAC. They have won five consecutive games after beginning the season 0-4-0. The Mustangs entered the game undefeated and having not allowed a goal since the season opener on Sept. 11. They are now 7-1-1 overall and in conference.

The Falcons pulled off the upset behind their highly aggressive defense. Despite controlling the ball for most of the first half and a majority of the second, Warde's offense was unable to capitalize on its opportunities. Ludlowe's defense was able to pressure the Mustangs' offensive players and force them into challenging shots.

"Ludlowe did an excellent job forcing us into one area of the field," said Mustangs coach Tom Cunningham. "We just could not obtain any high-percentage shots. We had our chances. The effort was definitely there."

"Our defense was very focused and composed," said Falcons coach Kate Dawson. "I was very pleased with how much effort they gave. I have to give a lot of credit to both junior Annie McNamara and Caroline Serniak. Annie gave us great leadership at the back, and made a number of nice plays. Caroline has stepped up big since becoming the starting goalie and became a leader. She was excellent tonight."

Serniak was tested twice in the final few minutes and responded by making impressive saves. She went airborne to stop a header with 5:15 remaining, and followed it up by stopping a powerful kick three minutes later.

Warde's defense was equally aggressive and completely shut down Ludlowe's offense for the entire first half and much of the second half. Eventually, the Falcons offense settled down and Girouard capitalized on a rare scoring opportunity.

"I have the upmost respect for Warde," Dawson said. "They were really able to frustrate our offense and limit our scoring opportunities. At halftime, I had to talk to them about settling down and continuing to focus on our game plan. Finally, we had a nice play at the net and Rebecca was able to come through for us."

Cunningham acknowledge that his team suffered a disappointing loss, but said that he was extremely proud of its effort.

"We had a great game plan and they executed it," he said. "We let it all hang out there, and just didn't have it go our way in the end. "I told them it's just one game on the schedule. We're not going to dwell on it."

For Ludlowe, defeating its cross-town rival further demonstrated the strides it has made since starting 0-4.

"This team has built a ton of confidence with each win," Dawson proclaimed. "We've really improved our teamwork and focus, and I'm very pleased with the leadership we're now showing. Those first few loses were tough, but they definitely helped us build character."

Danny Atkinson is a freelance sports reporter

Fairfield Ludlowe 1, Fairfield Warde 0

FARIFIELD WARDE 0 0--0

FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 0 1--1

Records: FW--7-1-1, 7-1-1 FCIAC; FL--5-4-0, 5-4-0 FCIAC. Goal: FL--Rebecca Girouard. Goalies: FW--Katie Brennan (2 saves); FL--Caroline Serniak (11 saves). Shots: FW--3; FL--4.