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Trailing 14-8 after the first quarter in Thursday's game against Westhill (3-9), the Fairfield Warde girls basketball team changed course. The Mustangs intensified their defense, took the rush out of their offense, and earned a 46-41 win, crucial to their post-season goals.

"All year we've been in every game," said Mustang Head Coach Dave Danko. "It's a matter of finishing and learning how to finish a game."

Warde's finish had some compensating to do. Midway through the first quarter, Westhill led 10-2 and looked to be headed for a rout. Mustangs' passes flew out of bounds and backcourt errors created turnovers. An overheated Kate Kerrigan, who would eventually score 19 points, ran a steal up the court only to be called for a charging foul.

Team captain Ali Rocchi (16 points) provided the only bright spot for the Mustangs' offense early. With high scorers Alex Aufiero (15 point average) and Brielle Lanese (28 points against Bridgeport Central) injured, Rocchi put up all eight of Warde's first-quarter points.

"I thought I really had to lead the team, spark something offensively, get something going," said Rocchi, who also recorded a first-quarter steal and drew a charging foul. "Thankfully, I was able to in the first quarter and my teammates really picked it up second quarter and all the way to the end."

The pickup arrived primarily in the form of a refocused Kerrigan. She scored with a foul-line jumper, drove the paint, converted an assist from Rocchi, and went 3-3 from the foul line, including an old-time 3-point play.

"I think I really just calmed down and realized that I could handle the pressure," said Kerrigan. "I kind of took my time, slowed down, and just played the game."

Kerrigan's 11 points, added to Rocchi's basket off a Carly Mappa inbound pass and Taylor Bargmann's deuce in the paint gave the Mustangs a 23-20 halftime advantage.

When Westhill retied the score at 31-31 with 2:35 in the third quarter, the Mustangs went into a deep freeze, looking for a single shot to provide momentum. The shot missed, and Westhill's Ginny LaFauci (nine points) started off the final period with a pair of long jump shots.

Rocchi answered with a turnaround jumper in the paint. When she evened the score at 37-37 with her final two baskets of the day, Danko called a time out.

"We handled their pressure, we got good spacing, but the important thing was the defensive stops," said Danko."We needed the stops, we didn't need a letdown. We needed rebounding and the girls responded. They responded on the defensive end and they believed."

Twenty seconds after Danko's invocation, Bargmann pulled down a weak side rebound and fled up the court.

"Coach is always saying you gotta rebound, he's always motivating us so he's good at getting us to keep our heads up," said Bargmann. "When I got the rebound, they all said push it, so I dribbled up the court. I didn't feel like I had a shot, so I lifted my head and Kate was open."

Kerrigan drew a foul and sank two free throws.

Westhill answered and Bargmann repeated her successful dash, this time scoring herself with a runner for a 41-39 Warde lead.

When Warde's pressure defense gave the Vikings' Megan D'Alessandro a pair of free throws, she tied the score with 3:12 left in the game. From then on, the Mustangs gave Danko his stops, turning them into a 5-0 final run.

Bargmann and Jerelyn Luther's trap developed into a held ball and a Warde possession. Seconds later, Bargmann found Kerrigan uncovered in the paint. 43-41.

Westhill tried to gain possession with fouls, sending Kerrigan to the line with 35 seconds left. She sank both ends of a one-and-one making the game 45-41.

When Mappa forced a held ball and Westhill took possession with 27 seconds left, Rocchi again stepped up. She rebounded LaFauci's miss, and with 10 seconds on the clock, closed in on Westhill's point guard for a deflection.

"I knew it was a risky situation," said Rocchi. "But I thought I'd take a chance. Thankfully, Carly got the deflection."

Mappa sank the final foul shot, and the clock ran out on Westhill, leaving Warde three wins shy of a state tournament berth with seven league games to go, and there's more.

"We're still thinking the FCIAC tournament," said Danko. "To get there, we've got to go undefeated from here on in. The girls know that and we're still striving for what we've always been trying to accomplish, which is make the FCIACs and make the states. Those are still our goals."