The future is the great unknown, but if it all ends up working out in the long run for the Westhill High girls basketball team, the Vikings might look back at the fourth quarter of Tuesday's 53-34 victory over Fairfield Warde as a defining moment.
The FCIAC championship-minded Vikings were supposed to roll Tuesday against a young, Warde squad that graduated five starters last season. But when the Vikings looked up at the scoreboard after the third period, they led 33-30. Warde had just outrebounded the Vikings 17-4 in the third quarter, giving the Mustangs a 35-15 edge off the boards at that point. And the Mustangs were also doing a terrific job bottling up Westhill's star forward Meg D'Alessando.
It was time for the Vikings to take a deep breath and swallow.
"Coach (Mike King) told us before the fourth quarter that our heads were not in the game and to be tough and go out and get it," Westhill's Tyler Evans said. "So that's what we did. We woke up in the fourth quarter."
In the final quarter Westhill (11-2, 9-2 FCIAC) tightened up on defense, forced seven turnovers, made 5 of 9 field goal attempts (17 of 46 overall), and outrebounded the Mustangs 9-3 (Warde won the battle of the boards 38-24). The result keeps the Vikings in contention for a regular-season title, or, at least, a top four finish, which would secure home-court advantage in the quarterfinals.
"The difference in the fourth quarter was that we finished, we made some layups, we ran the floor, we got out in transition and we played better defense," King said. "Their goal was to stop Meg and they did that. So, others had to step up for us."
Evans finished with 17 points and six rebounds for the Vikings. D'Alessandro had 15 points but only seven after three periods before going 8-for-8 from the line in the final eight minutes. Jackie Paasman added six rebounds while Steph Roones and Kat Grasso played their usual strong all-around games.
But, no doubt, all were a little nervous after three quarters.
"We executed a good game plan for three quarters," Fairfield coach Dave Danko said. "We broke their pressure and got a lot of layups, but then they went man-to-man on defense and we couldn't make a shot. That got their athletes going."
Warde (7-7. 6-6), led by Kenzie Burns' 13 points and Kaitlin McKenna's 17 rebounds, made 2 of 12 shots in the fourth quarter (15-for-55 overall) and scored just 11 points in the second half. The Vikings, who forced 27 turnovers while committing 16, outscored Warde 20-4 in the final quarter.
"We believe we have a good team and we believe we can win FCIACs," Evans said, perhaps with a little more fervor than she might have had after the third quarter.
WESTHILL 53, WARDE 34
FAIRFIELD WARDE (7-7, 6-6 FCIAC)
Michele Treglia 1 0-0 2; Kenzie Burns 5 0-0 13; Mollie Kerrigan 4 0-2 8; Kaitlin McKenna 3 0-0 6; Tiara Fountain 2 1-2 5; LejiaMarkovic 0 0-0 0; Mary Kate McTague0 0-0 0; Sarah Cotto 0 0-0 0; Jacqui Lanese 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-55 1-4 34
WESTHILL 11-2, 9-2 FCIAC)
Kat Grasso 2 0-0 5; Steph Roones 3 0-1 6; Meg D'Alessandro 2 10-10 15; Jackie Paasman 2 0-3 4; Tyler Evans 6 5-6 17; Edona Thagi 1 2-4 4; Liz Grasso 0 0-0 0; Krystal Dixon 1 0-0 2; Erica Gambino 0 0-0 0; Sam Corsello 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-46 17-24 53
WARDE 6 17 7 4--34
WESTHILL 9 15 9 20--53
3-pointers: FW--Burns 3; W--K.Grasso, D'Alessandro.
Highlights: FW--McKenna 17 rebounds, Fountain 8 rebounds; W--Paasman 6 rebounds, Evans 6 rebounds, Roones, 5 assists.