FAIRFIELD -- After sleepwalking through a third quarter that allowed Simsbury to cut a 16-point halftime deficit almost in half, Warde coach Dave Danko decided to scrap his 1-3-1 defense and went back to playing tough man-to-man.

That switch, along with sophomore guard Daja Polk making three clutch plays down the stretch, allowed the Mustangs to hold off the Trojans 54-45 in the Class LL second round Saturday night.

The win advances fifth-seeded Warde (21-3) into the Class LL quarterfinals on Tuesday night at No. 4 Norwich Free Academy at 7 p.m. Simsbury ends its season at 16-7.

Two other Fairfield schools will also be playing in the quarterfinals as Ludlowe visits Mercy on Tuesday in Class LL and ND-Fairfield plays at Bolton in the Class S quarterfinals on Monday.

"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," said Polk, 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."

And while Polk made her free throws, missed free throws by the rest of the Mustangs nearly cost them. Warde was a dismal 18 of 38 from the line, 20 misses that made the game much closer than Danko wanted.

"We could have done better on the free throws when we needed to open up the lead," Danko said. "I don't know what we were from the line but when we needed to open up the lead we got those free throws from Daja."

Sarah Cotto paced Warde with 18 points while Shania Osborne added 11 and Polk finished with nine. Katie Martensen led Simsbury with a game-high 22 while Jenna Gregoire had 11.

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 on cruise control and Simsbury outscored the Mustangs 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 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."

"This was a good team win," added Danko. "This is a good sign going into NFA because as its gets tighter and you have to grind, teams are going to come at you with tough man-to-man defenses. And to beat good teams in this tournament, you have to be prepared for good, hard defenses."

celsberry@ctpost.com

Class LL second round

SIMSBURY (16-7)

Emily Alonzo 1 0-0 3, Zhizhou Miller 1 1-3 3, Katie Martensen 5 12-14 22, McKenna Finken 1 0-0 2, Callie Corbett 0 0-0 0, Briana Patria 0 0-2 0, Jenna Gregoire 2 7-11 11, Sarah Nelson 0 0-0 0, Tara White 1 0-0 3. Totals: 11 20-30 45

WARDE (21-3)

Jacqui Lanese 2 1-2 6, Daja Polk 1 7-13 9, Kim Rodriguez 0 0-0 0, Shania Osborne 4 3-7 11, Iliana Krasniqi 2 0-0 4, Sarah Cotto 5 8-12 18, Olivia Parisi 2 2-4 6, Allison Whitlock 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 18-38 54.

SIMSBURY8 9 14 14--45

WARDE11 22 7 14--54

3-point goals: S--Alonzo, White. W--Lanese. Fouled out: S--Miller, Patria. W--Parisi.