MIDDLETOWN -- Unlike soccer and hockey, or even football, in which a superior defensive effort can end in a shutout, a strong basketball "D" can only hope for minutes-long stretches of holding an opponent scoreless. In a Class LL girls basketball tournament second-round game Thursday night, No. 3 Mercy nearly completed back-to-back quarters of blanking its opponent in the second half.
The SCC champion Tigers beat Fairfield Warde 37-22 in their gym to advance to the quarterfinals on Monday against No. 6 Career a 90-37 winner over No. 11 Nonnewaug. Mercy, the defending Class LL state champions, led the Mustangs at halftime 21-19, then held Warde to one point in the third quarter and two points in the fourth quarter on a basket just before the buzzer.
Mercy coach Tim Kohs said it was the Tigers' best defensive performance of 2013-14. Mercy, which had lost three straight LL finals before its title in 2013, improved to 24-1. In seven of the Tigers' victories this winter, they limited their opponents to 25 points or fewer.
"We had them on their heels," said Warde coach Dave Danko, whose 14th-seeded Mustangs finished at 16-7. "We showed what we could do in the first half. They slowly pulled away; they were deliberate. They'd take a minute, then a minute-and-a-half before they'd take a shot. We didn't execute our offensive patterns in the second half, or our sets.
"We had to capitalize off their turnovers in the second half, but we didn't," Danko said. "In the third quarter, we had some breakaways. We had two or three layups, but we missed."
Maura Fitzpatrick, who averages nearly 20 points, paced Mercy's offense with 11 points, and Sarah Gallo added 10 points. For Warde, freshman Iliana Krasniqi scored a team-high six points, all in the first half. Senior Kaitlin McKenna was next high with five, all in the first two quarters.
Kenzie Burns made a foul shot 3:02 into the third quarter for Warde, cutting Mercy's lead to 23-20. Mercy had trailed 12-10 after the first quarter, and it led by 31-20 entering the fourth quarter. Carley Strachan, of the Mustangs, hit a shot from the paint in the final seconds for their only basket of the second half.
Kohs had scouted Warde this season after scrimmaging the Mustangs in Middletown on Dec. 4. He called Warde talented and knew the Mustangs could be dangerous with their effective defense.
"I saw the looks on our kids faces at halftime," Kohs said. "You could see they knew they were in a game and if we lost, we'd be done. It was a five-point lead for us there for a while (in the third quarter). We got two baskets to make it nine points. But if they had gotten two baskets instead to cut it to one, I think it would have stayed that way the rest of the game."
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Class LL second round
Mercy 37, Fairfield Warde 22
Lejla Markovic 1 0-0 2 Michelle Treglia 0 0-0 0 Kenzie Burns 0 1-2 1 Kaitlin McKenna 2 1-4 5 Tiara Fountain 0 0-2 0 Daja Polk 1 0-1 2 Mollie Kerrigan 1 0-1 2 Carley Strachan 1 0-0 2 Charlotte Choinski 0 0-0 0 Gabby Howard 0 0-0 0 Iliana Krasniqi 3 0-0 6 Sarah Cotto 0 2-2 2. Totals: 9 4-12 22.
Taylor Fascione 0 1-2 1 Maura Fitzpatrick 3 4-6 11 Kendra Landry 3 0-3 6 Destine Perry 2 0-0 5 Morgan Cahill 1 0-0 2 Sarah Gallo 5 0-0 10 Alexis Brown 1 0-0 2 Sophia Giansiracusa 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 5-11 37.
FAIRFIELD WARDE 12 7 1 2--22
MERCY 10 11 10 6--37
3-pointers: M--Fitzpatrick, Perry.