The Fairfield Warde girls basketball team was looking to wash the bitter taste of losing in the first round of the Class L state playoffs a year ago from its collective mouth.

To do so, the Mustangs got defensive.

Warde, the 17th-seed, held No. 16 Fitch to just five fourth quarter points as the Mustangs came away with a 40-36 win over the Falcons in the first round of the Class L tournament on Monday night in Groton.

"I thought we handled ourselves very, very well," Warde head coach Dave Danko said. "It was a good game for us to win."

The Mustangs were led by junior forward Brielle Lanese, who scored a team-high 16 points, including 6-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Junior guard Kate Kerrigan added eight points and Jamera Fountain scored 13 points as well.

"It was a good accomplishment," Lanese said. "I think we played well."

Warde will now travel to Colchester to take on No. 1 seed Bacon Academy on Thursday

at 7 p.m.

"We're up for the challenge," Danko said. "We've got a couple of days to prepare. It's exciting to go up and play a team that is undefeated and representing the league. It's a good barometer."

Fitch was led by junior guard Aunisha Dillon who scored 16 points. Falcons' senior forward Jenna Emerson also added 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Fitch ended its season 12-10.

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Kerrigan held Emerson in check, especially in the fourth quarter. Warde's junior guard held one of the Falcons' top players to just a single point in the final frame.

"She did a good job," Lanese said of Kerrigan's defense. "[Emerson] was big. I think we all did a good job on her."

The Mustangs made the plays they had to in the end. Lanese hit four free throws in the final 1:19, the first two which gave Warde a two-point lead, and then the final two with 19 seconds left to clinch Warde's trip to the second round.

"That was a little nerve-wracking," Lanese said. "But I made them, so it was good."

"I thought we were calm," Danko said.

Kerrigan and Lanese spearheaded the Mustangs in the first half, as each scored six of the Mustangs' 19 points as Warde took a 19-15 lead at halftime.

Emerson and Dillon grabbed control of the game in the beginning of the third quarter, carrying the Falcons on an 8-2 run to give them a 23-21 lead. Emerson scored eight of her 10 points in the third quarter.

"She was a good player," Kerrigan said of Emerson.

But a pair of 3-pointers by Fountain gave Warde the lead again, 27-23. Fitch outscored Warde 8-3 to close the quarter and led after three quarters, 31-30.

However, Fountain hit a layup with 6:53 in the game to put Warde up by one, and the Mustangs did not trail after that.

"We kept our composure," Kerrigan said. "We played the game that we knew we were able to play."

Danko was pleased that his team could improve upon the Mustangs' unceremonious exit from the Class L state playoffs a year ago. Warde was throttled 62-36 at Pomperaug a year ago in its first state playoff game.

"The program needed it after last year," he said. "They worked hard to get in this position."