On Monday, the Fairfield Warde girls basketball team (8-13) traveled to Southbury to take on fifth-seeded and CSWA No. 2 Pomperaug (23-1) in the first round of the state Class L tournament. Given the host team's edge in size and experience, the Mustangs were playing David to the Panthers' Goliath. This time Goliath won, 62-36.

"Pomperaug's a team that's played a lot of minutes together," said Warde Head Coach Dave Danko. "They're so deep, so experienced, and they've got so many options, it's hard to match up. They have good composure, they don't get rattled. You've got to pick your poison with them."

The Mustangs came out with an early press that earned them a held ball turnover and then a 6-4 lead as co-captain Alex Aufiero (18 points) relayed a steal to Katie Kerrigan. Kerrigan missed the hoop, but Brielle Lanese, close on her heels, gave Warde their only lead of the day with a tidy putback.

Trailing 8-6, co-captain Ali Rocchi pulled down a defensive rebound and ran the floor, passing off to Aufiero, who tied the score at 8-8 midway through the first quarter.

Then Pomperaug's height and experience took over and they went on a 10-minute, 18-2 run. Warde missed easy layups and when the tall Panthers (five taller than Rocchi, the Mustangs' tallest girl) cut off the inside, Warde attempts rattled off the iron.

Trailing 26-10, the Mustangs won the final minutes of the first half, highlighted by senior Sarah Duffy's steal and old-fashioned three point play. The half ended with Pomperaug up, 30-17.

"We were chasing 13 at the half and we had a couple of good looks and unfortunately, we didn't put the ball in the hoop," said Danko in summary. "Out of the half, I basically said to them, we pull within ten, who knows? But Pomperaug kind of slowly expanded that lead."

Using their height to good advantage, the Panthers extended their lead to 43-22 after three quarters and 62-36 at game's end.

Before the bus ride back to Fairfield, Danko took a moment to reflect on his seniors, none of whom had been regular starters until this season, and who took on leadership of a largely young and untested team.

"They handled pressure and that's the main thing in life, how you respond, how you grow as an individual," said Danko. "You don't react, you don't point fingers and those kids never pointed fingers. They took everything, they took the highs and lows and they matured.

"They had good people, experienced people who handed leadership down to them," Danko continued, "and then they set the tone this year as good leaders."

Aufiero returned her coach's admiration.

"Danko's intense, but inside he's a teddy bear," said Aufiero. "He can be intense sometimes, but he's just doing it to make you a better player. I'm really sad that I'm leaving him next year because he's taught me everything I know about basketball."

"It doesn't get much better than four years of Warde basketball," Rocchi chimed in. "I loved every minute of it. It stinks that this season's already over. It was probably the fastest season, this year."