Girls basketball: Gulbin carries Wilton to FCIAC finals

In playoff basketball the only thing that matters is that, when the final buzzer sounds, your team has one more point on the scoreboard than your opponent.

That’s just what the Wilton girls basketball team had after Tuesday night’s FCIAC semifinal game against Fairfield Warde.

With the 43-42 win at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, the second-seeded Warriors advance to Thursday’s FCIAC championship game.

The Warriors (18-4) will take on the top-seeded Trumbull Eagles (21-1) on Thursday night at 7 at Fairfield Ludlowe. Wilton lost to the Eagles, 59-42, on Feb. 5.

Defending champ Trumbull defeated Stamford in the other semifinal game, 51-44.

Wilton last reached the FCIAC final in 2014 but lost to Danbury. The team’s only FCIAC title came in 1989.

On Tuesday night, third-seeded Warde built its biggest lead of the night at 38-34 with four minutes remaining, but the Warriors quickly battled back to tie the score at 38-38 with 3:17 to play. Two free throws each from Elizabeth Breslin and Lauren Robertson got the Warriors even.

With less than two minutes to play, the Mustangs were up 42-41 with the ball. Wilton, which had only committed one personal foul in the second half, started fouling Warde players to get them to the free-throw line.

With 39 seconds left, senior co-captain Claire Gulbin stole the inbounds pass and the Warriors called time-out.

Gulbin, who put her team on her back from the opening tip, drove to the hoop and scored to put Wilton on top, 43-42, with 19.3 seconds left in the game.

On the ensuing possession, Warde brought the ball up the court and drew a foul, sending Olivia Parisi to the foul line. Parisi missed the front end of a one-and-one, with Wilton gaining possession of the ball. The Warriors were able to avoid being fouled in the final 10 seconds and ran out the clock to advance to the championship game.

Gulbin, who scored her team’s first 10 points finished with a game-high 20 points, wanted the ball in her hands with the team down by one at 42-41.

“It feels great to win and be playing for the championship,” said Gulbin. “Yeah, I wanted the ball in my hands to score or find an open teammate. I love the challenge of the big stage and had confidence in my ability. I said to myself if I get a step on my defender I’m going to drive to the basket. I saw the opening and got to the basket for the layup.”

The game got off to a slow start with neither team scoring in the first three minutes of the match. Two baskets by Gulbin got things started. Gulbin’s 10 points gave Wilton a 10-3 lead, which dwindled to 12-9 by the quarter’s end.

Wilton maintained the lead the in the second quarter, but three points was their largest lead.  Wilton was up 22-19 nearing the end of the first half, but a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Caroline Aufiero tied the game at 22-22.

Wilton opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run for the 28-22 lead. A steal by Emily Tuin resulted in her fast-break layup, a Gulbin dump-off to Robertson for a basket, and a pretty teamwork play of a pass from Breslin to Robertson, who shoveled the ball to Tuin for the bucket.

A Parisi basket with 1:17 to play in the third period tied the game at 29-29, but Gulbin drained a 3-pointer the next time down the floor to put the Warriors back up 32-31. Parisi hit another basket to pull to within 32-31.

Warde had a chance to end the third quarter with the lead, but a Caroline Sweeny block kept the Warriors ahead.

“This is such an impactful win for our program. This team handled the pressure of this game and gave us the opportunity to play for the championship, and that’s all I can ask for,” said Wilton head coach Rob Coloney after the game. “Claire had a big game for us tonight. She wanted it so bad and she went out and did it. I’ve coached her and several other players for many years and saw how hard they worked to get to here. When we were down late I thought the clock was going to run out on her, but they kept it together, got to the basket to draw the fouls and give us a chance.”

He continued, “We also got outstanding performances from our role players. Lauren (Robertson) was a bull getting rebounds. Breslin, who played in foul trouble all game long, was key late in the game, and Zoe Rappaport gave us a great effort off the bench.”

Gulbin led the Warriors with 20 points, followed by nine points for Robertson and seven points for Tuin.

Warde (17-5) was led by Parisi with 14 points.

Notes: The Warriors post-game locker room celebration included three members of the Wilton 1988-89 FCIAC championship team, which was the first and only time that Wilton has won the FCIAC Championship. All-FCIAC guard, and soccer legend, Kristine Lilly was one of those members who joined the celebration.

Wilton 43, Warde 42

Warde 9-13-9-11 42

Wilton 12-10-10-11 43

Warde: Toni Lamparski 2 0-0 6, Ava Fitzpatrick 0 0-0 0, Kristina Krasniqi 1 0-0 3, Kat Allison 4 0-2 8, Caroline Aufiero 4 2-2 11, Olivia Parisi 7 0-1 14. Totals 18 2-5 42

Wilton: Caroline Sweeny 1 1-2 3, Zoe Rappaport 1 0-2 2, Claire Gulbin 7 2-2 20, Elizabeth Breslin 0 2-2 2, Emily Tuin 3 0-0 7, Lauren Robertson 3 3-4 9. Totals 15 8-12 43

3-pointers: Warde – Lampanski 2, Krasniqi, Aufiero; Wilton – Gulbin 4, Tuin