Girls basketball: Warriors hold off Staples, advance to semifinals

The Wilton girls basketball team opened the fourth quarter with a six-point lead, saw it grow to 12 points early in the period, and then withstood a valiant comeback attempt by the Staples Wreckers to come away with an exciting 57-53 FCIAC quarterfinal win Saturday afternoon at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.

The second-seeded Warriors (16-5) advanced to the semifinals, where they will face the Fairfield Warde Mustangs on Tuesday night at Fairfield Ludlowe High School at 6. Warde beat Ridgefield, 38-33, in the other quarterfinal game at Zeoli Fieldhouse.

“This was an exciting game and the team gave me the effort it took to win,” said Wilton head coach Rob Coloney. “Sure, Staples made a run at the end to make it close, but I’ve been telling the team all year long that all these conference games are tough.”

The two teams went into halftime knotted at 25-25. An Emily Tuin basket to open the second half gave the Warriors the lead, which they would never surrender. Wilton led 38-32 at the completion of the third quarter.

The Warriors started the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run and quickly saw themselves up 12, at 48-34. Back-to-back three-pointers by Caroline Sweeny and Tuin and two foul shots by Sweeny fueled the run.

But with just under five minutes to play, the Wreckers started eating into the lead. Wilton stayed focused, even though the Warriors were having trouble bringing the ball up the court, as Staples pressed the ball each Warrior possession.

Wilton finally broke the press, as Lauren Robertson was uncovered under the basket for a layup and a 52-43 late in the period.

Wilton still had an eight-point lead at 53-45 with 1:08 left on the clock, but 3-pointers by the Wreckers Arianna Gerig and Ellen Fair on consecutive trips down the floor drew Staples to within one point at 54-53 with less than a minute to play. Fair’s 3-pointer was half way between the three-point line and half court.

Sweeney was fouled by Staples and hit one of two from the line, putting the score at 55-53 Wilton with 19 second to play. Staples came down the court and missed on two shot attempts. Sweeny pulled down the rebound and looked to run out the clock, but as she made her way up the court she was all alone, so she just laid in the basket for the 57-53 win.

“Staples was the only team this year to beat us on our home court, so we really wanted to get our revenge today,” said senior co-captain Claire Gulbin. “We kept our composure when they made their run and finished off the game. Give them (Staples) a lot of credit. They got some long 3-pointers to fall today, which helped them make it close. We knew coming into the game that we were going to press the ball, so we worked on this extensively in practice. We put eight players on defense in practice to work on it. It gave us a little trouble because we were a little tentative to go up the middle, but we finally solved it.”

In the first quarter Staples scored first, but Wilton quickly took the lead and the first quarter ended with Wilton ahead 19-15.  Staples Abigail Carter drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tighten the score.

The scoring pace of the game slowed in the second quarter, as play got a little sloppy with turnovers. A Wreckers 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining gave them the lead at 25-23, but the Warriors tied it with a bucket by Elizabeth Breslin.

Sweeny paced the Warriors with 14 points, followed by Robertson with 12 points, Breslin with 11 points, Gulbin with nine points, and Tuin with eight points.

Fair led all scorers with 20 points, 18 coming off of six 3-pointers.