Mustangs' run ends in Class LL quarters
With only one senior on the roster, this was supposed to be more of a rebuilding season for the Warde girls' basketball team. Instead, coach Dave Danko simply reloaded, rolling through another winning season and reaching the quarterfinals of the Class LL tournament.
The Mustangs' season came to an end Tuesday night against Norwich Free Academy in a 56-34 loss that left Warde with a 21-4 record. They won the FCIAC Central Division (16-2), advanced into the FCIAC tournament semifinals and won two state tournament games
Against NFA, Warde made just two baskets in the first half and committed 13 turnovers. In a story in the Norwich Bulletin, Danko said the Wildcats effectively bumped his cutters, which meant the Mustangs were not setting good screens. In his mind, the stronger team came out on top. Forward Shania Osborne led Warde with 18 points.
In its CIAC second round 54-45 win over Simsbury, sophomore guard Daja Polk made three clutch plays to allow the Mustangs to hang on for the win.
"That was a great sign to see from Daja, to see her taking control and wanting the ball," Danko said. "That was the key part of the game and our point guard, our floor leader, stepped up and led us."
"I felt like the team was looking for me and as the point guard, I knew I had to be confident," Polk said, who made five of six free throws in a two minute stretch that pushed the Warde lead from 45-37 to 50-39 with 1:28 to play. "My job was to take the ball to the rack and draw fouls."
With their defense forcing 13 first half turnovers and allowing the Trojans just four baskets, the Mustangs had a comfortable 33-17 halftime lead. But instead of coming out in the second half and playing even tougher, Warde put it cruise control and Simsbury outscored them 14-7 to pull within 40-31 after three.
"We talked about coming out thinking it was 0-0 and winning the third quarter," Danko said. "We kind of sat back. We're an aggressive team and I think we allowed them to get comfortable with cutters going through. We went back to going right at their guards and we were effective."
Thanks to Polk, who took control in crunch time and made sure the Simsbury never got it back under double figures until the final buzzer.
"We just had to believe in each other," Polk said. "We really wanted to win tonight (the Mustangs were eliminated in the second round last season). This was our goal, so we had to come out and play aggressive."