After winning eight of 10 games during the first half of the FCIAC season before this week, there was still a cloud of doubt hanging over the Stamford High girls basketball team. After all, not one of the Black Knights' league wins was against a team with a winning record.
But it took 24 hours this week to do what they could not accomplish during the first six weeks of the season. With Tuesday's 37-28 victory over a strong Fairfield Warde team at the Mustangs' gym coming on the heels of Monday's upset over previously undefeated Wilton, also on the road, the Knights have made their case. Pencil them in as a legitimate championship contender.
"These last two nights we showed everyone just how good we are," Stamford coach Diane Burns said. "I told them (after beating Wilton) that they earned it, but that they have to come out like that again, and they did."
With sophomore Tiana England leading the way with 17 points and Kelsey Santagata doing just about everything else, the Knights did what few expected: beat two good teams on the road 24 hours apart.
"I watched them (Monday) night and they played a wonderful game," Warde coach Dave Danko said. "So we came up with what I thought was a good game plan but they didn't allow us to execute it."
The Stamford defense was superb, holding Warde (10-4, 9-3 FCIAC) to 13 for 62 shooting (21 percent) from the field. The Knights (12-2, 10-2) scored the first 10 points of the third quarter and never led by less than eight the rest of the way. The Mustangs have lost three in a row after beginning 2013-14 by winning 10 of their first 11 games.
England, who had 19 points in the 55-50 win over Wilton, had nine of her points in the decisive third quarter when the Knights turned a 14-14 halftime tie into a 31-19 lead. But it was Santagata who really shined. The senior center scored just two points but had 11 rebounds, six blocked shots, six steals and five assists.
"Our senior leader really stepped up," Burns said. "Kelsey sacrificed herself for the good of the team. She only had two points but she did all the other little things."
One of the more important "little" things was limiting Warde's talented center Kaitlin McKenna's chances in the paint. McKenna, one of the top centers in the league, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, but had just two of each in the critical third quarter.
"I thought they'd double McKenna but Santagata did a good job one on one on her," Danko said. "Our chance was in the first quarter when I didn't think Stamford was as in sync as they were against Wilton. We had our opportunities but we couldn't put it in the basket."
Freshman Iliana Krasniqi and Tiara Fountain had eight rebounds each for Warde while Lejla Markovic had seven boards.
Stamford 37, Fairfield Warde 28
STAMFORD (12-2, 10-2 FCIAC)
Maxine Fodiman 1 1-4 4 Brianna Gordon 3 1-4 7 Kelsey Santagata 0 2-4 2 Tiana England 4 9-9 17 Anisa Fortt 1 3-6 5 Camry Evans 1 0-0 2 Mackenzie Brown 0 0-0 0. Totals: 10-40 16-26 37
WARDE (10-4, 9-3 FCIAC)
STAMFORD 8 6 17 6--37
FAIRFIELD WARDE 6 8 5 9--28
3-pointers: S--Fodiman. Fouled out: FW--Krasniqi. Highlights: S--Santagata 11 rebounds, 6 blocks, 6 steals, 5 assists, Gordon 12 rebounds, Evans 6 rebounds, Fortt 5 rebounds, 4 steals; FW--Krasniqi 8 rebounds, Fountain 8 rebounds, 5 steals, McKenna 7 rebounds, Markovic 7 rebounds.