Having lost seven of eight, and coming off a 40-point home loss, the Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball team's season was hanging in the balance.

But the Falcons converted when it mattered most, and kept its state playoff hopes alive.

Ludlowe senior Tyler Bulkley scored 12 points, including a layup with 36 seconds left that game the Falcons the lead for good as Ludlowe held off Warde 44-43 on Tuesday at Fairfield Warde High School.

"It was a collective effort," Ludlowe coach Brian Silvestro said. "We really needed this. The season was really in jeopardy."

Mark Cerulli scored a team-high 13 points and Justin Berardino added 11 and five boards as the Falcons won for just the third time this year, putting the taste of a 74-34 loss against Stamford in Fairfield behind them.

"We worked hard and changed some things," Silvestro said. "(Cerulli) got to the rim a bunch and did not take a charge all game which is big for him. I think he played a fantastic game."

Coming out of a timeout, with 41 seconds left, Cerulli sent the inbounds pass to Berardino, and when two Mustangs crept to guard him, he hit Bulkley, back-door for the eventual game-winning layup.

"It wasn't a play we had designed," Bulkley said. "It was designed for (Berardino) and I got open and waited for him to pass it to me."

The Mustangs had five chances win in the last eight seconds, with Matt McTague and Greg Hyman's last-second tries hitting the rim. Berardino grabbed the final rebound, chucked the ball down court, creating bedlam on Ludlowe's bench and igniting the Falcons' student section to storm the floor.

"You don't want to be hoping for a last-second shot," Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. "You love seeing the shots go up."

Michael Wright led the Mustangs with 13 points and nine rebounds. Warde fell for the fourth time in five games, dropping to 5-6.

"This is why it's a rivalry," Swaller said. "I felt we had opportunities, but we didn't capitalize on them."

Ludlowe opened on fire, scoring the game's first eight points, behind Berardino's 4-point play. But Warde answered with a 14-2 run, and led from there until the fourth quarter.

The game was hotly contested, and the pace was slow. The teams only combined for 14 second quarter points as Warde held a 19-14 lead at halftime.

After Ludlowe cut the lead to one, Warde came alive, building a seven-point advantage and putting the Falcons on the verge of a knockout blow.

"We let them stick around," Swaller said. "I think playing up to our best...and letting teams stick around is an issue."

The Falcons answered with a 9-0 run between the end of the third and fourth quarter start, to re-take the lead 33-31.

"I think I had confidence in the way we were playing," Silvestro said.

Wright responded, scoring seven of his 13 in the fourth, as Warde took a 42-38 advantage on McTague's jumper with 2:31 to play.

But Warde did not convert a field goal the rest of the way, and when the Falcons needed to convert, they did, with Bulkley's layup. The Falcons snapped a three-game skid against Warde, spanning back to 2008.

"We had never beaten Warde since I've been here," Bulkley said. "I didn't want to go out like that

Ludlowe will try to remain hot on Friday when it hosts Bassick at 7 p.m.

"I've got kids who I can throw into the fire there," Silvestro said.

Warde will try to rebound against Staples on Friday at 7 p.m.

"We've got to look forward," Swaller said. "We've still got our goals in tact...we're in a hole, but we're not too far to get out of it."