It was sort of like deja vu in reverse. Fairfield Warde's girls basketball team used a pressing full-court defense, and some timely fourth-quarter shooting to erase an 11-point Fairfield Ludlowe lead en route to a hard-fought 52-47 home win on Tuesday night.
The Mustangs avenged a 51-50 defeat at the hands of the Falcons, who had come back from a double-digit deficit to nip the Mustangs in their previous meeting on Dec. 30. This was a key FCIAC battle between foes even in the conference standings and tied for fifth coming in. Warde improved to 13-4 (12-3 in the conference) and Ludlowe now has the same overall mark at 13-4 (11-4 in the FCIAC).
"They pulled out a really exciting game -- very hard-fought game, well deserved," Warde coach Dave Danko said.
Ludlowe turned a 22-16 halftime lead into a 28-17 advantage in the early-to-middle stages of the third quarter. The Mustangs fought back to within two points when Kenzie Burns sank a pair of late-quarter foul shots. Burns saw a bid for the lead miss when her 3-pointer rimmed out and Ludlowe's Regan Steed hit a 3 on the next possession, just before time expired to end the period. That sequence appeared to ignite the Falcons, but it certainly didn't faze the Mustangs.
The Mustangs hung close and finally claimed the lead, at 44-43, with 3:23 remaining when Iliana Krasniqi scored. She had hit a key putback shot moments earlier, and Sarah Cotto sank a clutch 3-pointer before that to help the Mustangs overcome a 43-37 Ludlowe lead. Krasniqi added one-of-two foul shot attempts, then Cotto drained another 3-pointer, this one from the corner, to cap an 11-0 run. It was 48-43 Warde with 1:53 to go.
The Mustangs forced several late-game turnovers, including one on a half-court violation and another on a five-second call against the Falcons.
"I had absolute confidence in my team. We work so hard. We have so much intensity," Krasniqi said. We knew we had to win this game. We lost before and we knew we wouldn't let it happen again."
Burns had 17 points, and Cotto had 14, 12 of which came on four 3-pointers. Kaitlin McKenna, who was held in check by the Falcons throughout much of the night, had 8, Krasniqi scored all seven of her points in the fourth when the Mustangs put 20 points on the scoreboard.
Ludlowe got a dozen points from Pauline Blatt, 8 from Regan Steed, and 6 from Charlotte Blatt. One of the team's top scorers, Caroline Pangallo, was limited to four points thanks to combination of a nagging back injury and Warde's defense. Ludlowe coach Sarah Huntington noted that several players stepped up and proved her club is not a one-player team.
Huntington, despite the outcome, was pleased with her team's effort. "I thought our defense was tremendous. That was the best hustle I've seen them demonstrate this year," she said. "I'm really not disappointed. I think they did a great job."
"They're a really good, well-coached, passionate team," Danko said of the Falcons.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter
Warde 52, Ludlowe 47
LUDLOWE (13-4, 11-4 FCIAC)
Pauline Blatt 4 4-4 12 Sara Grabowski 1 0-0 2 Julia VonEhr 0 0-0 0 Caroline Pangallo 1 2-4 4 Charlotte Blatt 3 0-0 6 Trish Auray 1 0-0 3 Caroline Yates 0 0-0 0 Regan Steed 3 0-3 8 Alex McKinnon 6 0-0 12. Totals: 19 6-11 47.
WARDE (13-4, 12-3 FCIAC)
Michelle Treglia 0 0-0 0 Daja Polk 0 0-0 0 Kenzie Burns 6 3-4 17 Lejla Markovic 1 1-6 4 Carley Strachan 1 0-0 2 Kaitlin McKenna 3 2-4 8 Sara Cotto 4 2-2 14 Tiara Fountain 0 0-0 0 Iliana Krasniqi 3 1-3 7. Totals: 18 9-22 52.
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 11 11 15 10--47
FAIRFIELD WARDE 7 9 16 20--52
3-pointers: FL--Steed 2, Auray; FW--Cotto 4, Burns 2, Markovic. Fouled out: FL--C. Pangallo.