FAIRFIELD -- Trumbull couldn't turn to its press because of foul trouble early, but when the Eagles needed it to rally in the fourth quarter of their CIAC Class LL girls basketball first-round game Monday night at Fairfield Warde, their pressure nearly pulled off the comeback.
Trumbull's rally failed because the Mustangs' defense deflected two Eagles' shots in the final 95 seconds. The No. 14 Mustangs beat No. 19 Trumbull 41-37 and advanced to the tournament's second round Thursday when they will play at No. 3 Mercy (22-1), the SCC tournament champions, in Middletown.
Sarah Cotto and Kaitlin McKenna, with 35 seconds to go, had the pivotal partially blocked shots for the Mustangs down the stretch.
Warde (16-6) scored a basket off its press 34 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 38-24 lead. But the Mustangs didn't score again off Trumbull's pressure until 15.3 seconds remained when Lejla Markovic made a foul shot to make it 39-37. The Eagles (13-8) missed an open shot in the final six seconds, then Cotto (eight points) got the Mustangs' second field goal of the quarter at the buzzer.
"We had to protect the basket. We couldn't come out," Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said about the delayed press. "We had to put some key players on the bench. A lot of teams would have hung their heads. We ended it with a lot of pride right there. It was our girls' intensity."
Trumbull led by 8-4 after the first quarter, then Warde came on. The Mustangs opened a 24-16 lead entering the second half -- off a 20-8 scoring advantage in the second quarter -- and were up by 36-24 after three quarters.
"I thought we were a step quicker in the fourth quarter," Tobitsch said. "In the first, second and third quarters, Warde definitely had a step on us. I thought we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole."
Markovic led Warde with 11 points and freshman Iliana Krasniqi, a force off the backboards, added 10 points. Kalisse Eldridge, who sparked Trumbull's fourth-quarter rally, and Joyce Woolen each scored nine points to lead the Eagles, and Amanda Pfohl, with two 3-pointers, added eight.
Warde lost at Trumbull 60-47 on Feb. 17 and Mustangs' coach Dave Danko reminded his players about the lessons from that defeat in a physical game.
"We didn't let them get into their patterns," Danko said. "We disrupted their patterns with different looks with different players. (In the fourth quarter) we missed some open looks and let them back into the game. We had to make adjustments, and our girls accepted the challenge.
"I kept emphasizing that we cannot let that happen in our gym," Danko said of Trumbull's advantage in the physical play from the regular-season game.
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Class LL first round
Rachel Carron 2 0-0 5 Joyce Woolen 2 5-7 9 Danielle McGillicuddy 1 1-2 3 Kristina Vetter 0 0-0 0 Amanda Pfohl 3 0-0 8 Victoria Ray 0 0-0 0 Kalisse Eldridge 3 3-4 9 Claudia Tucci 0 0-2 0 Taylor Brown 1 0-0 3. Totals: 12 9-15 37.
FAIRFIELD WARDE (16-6)
Lejla Markovic 2 5-7 11 Carley Strachan 0 0-0 0 Michelle Treglia 0 0-0 0 Kaitlin McKenna 1 0-2 2 Iliana Krasniqi 4 2-2 10 Tiara Fountain 2 0-0 4 Kenzie Burns 1 0-0 3 Sarah Cotto 3 1-1 8. Totals: 14 9-18 41.
TRUMBULL 8 8 8 13--37
WARDE 4 20 12 5--41
3-pointers: T--Amanda Pfohl 2, Rachel Carron, Taylor Brown; FW--Lejla Markovic 2, Burns, Cotto. Fouled out: T--Joyce Woolen.