The Wilton girls basketball team hit the floor for the first time since their loss in the FCIAC championship game and drew a tough opponent in the first round of the Class LL state tournament on Monday night at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.
The 12th-seeded Warriors squared off against the 21st-seeded Norwich Free Academy Wildcats, a team that has sent Wilton packing in state tournament play the last few years.
NFA (11-9), which sported a young lineup in tonight’s matchup, also played and lost in their conference championship game.
After a slow start, the Warriors got on track to come away with a 44-40 win .
“Drawing NFA as our first-round game was no picnic and even though they put a young team on the floor they played a lot better than their record showed,” said Wilton head coach Rob Coloney. “They have a great coach that has I think eight state championships under his belt, so he gets the most out of his players. That said, we’re glad to get a win tonight and be able to practice tomorrow for our next game.”
Wilton (19-5) travels to West Hartford for a second-round game on Thursday night at 6:30 against fifth-seeded Hall (20-4), which is currently seventh overall in the state rankings.
“We were without the services of Emily Tuin tonight and (Caroline) Sweeny wasn’t 110%, but Zoe Rappaport and Alexa Hirn filled the gap and gave me quality minutes on the floor, and give (Elizabeth) Breslin credit for a great effort,” said Coloney.
The Wildcats got out to a quick 5-0 led to start the game, with all points coming from Aaliyah Brittian. Breslin finally got the Warriors on the board with a bucket and when Maddie Burke popped in a short jumper the Warriors pulled to within two at 13-11 at the end of one. NFA held the lead for the entire first quarter.
Wilton had its first lead of the game with 6:54 left in the second quarter when Claire Gulbin drained a 3-pointer, putting the Warriors up 15-13. Wilton held the lead the rest of the period and took a 25-23 lead into the halftime break.
During the regular season, the Warriors came up big in the third quarter scoring-wise, but that wasn’t the case Monday night as the offenses for both teams stalled.
Wilton scored the first four points of the third quarter for a six-point lead at 29-23. The Warriors’ biggest lead was seven points late in the period. But a 3-pointer by NFA’s Sarah Ericson cut the lead to 33-29 to end the third quarter. Wilton had a chance to put some distance on the scoreboard but couldn’t convert Wildcat turnovers into points.
NFA tied the game at 33-33 with 6:17 left to play, but the Warriors regained the lead the next trip down the floor as Sweeny went off the glass for a basket. A 3-pointer by Riley Ellington with 5:46 to play gave the Wildcats a 36-35 lead. Gulbin drained a 3-pointer of her own with 3:50 left to put the Warriors up for good at 38-36. Wilton converted five of six free throws to preserve the win.
Breslin led the Warriors with 14 points, including a perfect six-for-six at the free-throw line. She also had five rebounds, four steals and and three assists.
Breslin knows that her team will need to play better if they want to advance further in the tournament.
“We know it’s playoff time and if you don’t win you’re done for the season. We know we have a lot of little things we need to work on before we play our next game,” said Breslin.
“We didn’t play as well as we know we can, but I think we’re still licking our wounds from the championship game loss. But we also played a very good team in the opener who have a lot of state championships to their credit. They have knocked us out of the tournament several times, so we are glad we finally got some revenge.”
In addition to Breslin’s 14 points, Gulbin had nine points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Lauren Robertson had eight points and team-high nine rebounds, along with three assists, and Sweeny had seven points, six rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists.
Rappaport finished with four points, two steals and an assist, and Burke had two points.