GREENWICH -- Sick with the flu, Fairfield Warde center Kaitlin McKenna didn't play in the Mustangs' win against Darien Tuesday night. Her teammates were sure happy she returned to action Wednesday evening against a red-hot Greenwich team.
Displaying poise under pressure, the opportunistic McKenna scored on a putback at the buzzer, giving visiting Warde a 45-43 victory in a physical FCIAC girls basketball matchup.
McKenna, a senior, scored 10 points, but none of course, were as big as her final two.
"I got the rebound and just put it back up, my instincts just took over," McKenna said. "Watching the ball go in the basket was surreal. I just knew what I had to do at that moment."
With the score tied at 43-43, the Mustangs (7-1) called a timeout with just over 20 seconds remaining. Senior guard Tiara Fountain's shot from the perimeter bounced off the rim and McKenna grabbed the rebound, which came out long, and sank a shot from about five feet for the game-winning points. It was close whether or not McKenna got the last shot off in time.
"I thought the last shot was good," Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez said. "It should have never have come down to that last play. Many things led up to it. They got a lot of second shots and we did not do a good enough job of boxing out and eliminating those opportunities."
Freshman forward Iliana Krasniqi scored a team-high 18 points for Warde, which edged the Cardinals in a similar finish last season. The Mustangs took a 53-50 decision from the Cards a year ago, scoring the game-winner in the final five seconds of play.
Junior forward Jamie Kockenmeister scored a game-high 20 points and junior guard Alex Moses added nine, including two 3-pointers for Greenwich (6-2). Sophomore center Abbie Wolf, who worked hard for every shot she took against Warde's post players, had 15 rebounds and eight blocked shots for GHS.
"I think we are all tired of feeling like this and this loss will motivate us for future games," said Kockenmeister, who scored 14 second-half points. "It's a little disheartening, but we played really hard and didn't give up."
Kockenmeister's 3-pointer from the left corner with 46 seconds left in the fourth quarter tied the score at 43-43. Both squads had several chances to take the lead before the game's final basket.
"We knew it was going to be a close game," Mustangs coach David Danko said. "Our teams are carbon copies. We like to press and run and get it inside and they like to get out and run too. It was a hard-fought game for a playoff seed in the FCIACs."
The Cardinals, which entered the night on a three-game winning streak, jumped out to a 12-2 advantage with 3:09 to go in the opening quarter. Moses sank back-to-back jumpers, Kockenmeister scored a fastbreak layup and junior point guard Leigh Galletta tallied off a steal, making it 12-2. Greenwich's full court press gave Warde problems during the first quarter, but the Mustangs settled down.
"We wanted to duplicate last night's result (a win against Staples) and came out with a lot of energy," Hernandez said. "I was telling our team after the first quarter that we were going 100 miles per hour with no place to go. Warde was double teaming us and really worked the passing lanes well."
The visitors ended the first quarter with a 10-2 run, -- a spurt that carried over into the second quarter. Forcing turnovers with their pressure defense, the Mustangs led 20-16 midway through the second quarter, before GHS found its rhythm offensively. Most of Warde's first-half points came in the paint.
"As a team we work together well on the high low with me and McKenna and tonight that really helped us," Krasniqi said. "The high low really helped us get a lot of points."
Getting seven points from Kockenmeister in the third quarter, the Cards trailed 33-32 heading into the fourth. Greenwich knotted the score at 39 on Galletta's fastbreak layup with just over four minutes to go. Krasniqi converted a layup in traffic and McKenna buried a short jumper, putting Warde on top, 43-39 with 2:10 left. But Greenwich tied it up with four straight points, setting up the frantic final possession.
"It shouldn't have come down to one play, we had a lot of possessions and shots we didn't finish," Wolf said. "It's unfortunate we weren't there for the rebound at the end. But give them credit, they pressured us well on their press."
Of course, McKenna won't forget Wednesday night's finish.
"It's exciting, but I'm just happy to get the win against a good team," McKenna said. "This was an important game for both teams."
Kaitlin McKenna 5 0-3 10; Lejla Markovic 0 0-0 0; Carly Strachan 0 0-0 0; Iliana Krasniqi 8 2-3 18; Daja Polk 2 0-0 4; Mollie Kerrigan 2 0-0 4; Tiara Fountain 2 2-2 7; Sarah Cotto 1 0-2 2; Mary Kate McTague 0 0-2 0. Totals: 20 4-12 45.
Jamie Kockenmeister 8 3-4 20; Abbie Wolf 2 1-5 5; Caroline Beneville 1 0-0 2; Alexa Moses 4 0-0 9; Leigh Galletta 3 1-2 7; Rebecca DeCarlo 0 0-0 0; Emily Anderson 0 0-2 0; Colleen Bennett 0 0-0 0; Jayla Faison 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 5-13 43.
3-pointers: FW -- Fountain; G -- Moses, Kockenmeister
WARDE 12 11 10 12 -- 45
GREENWICH 14 10 8 11 -- 43
Records: Warde 7-1; Greenwich 6-2