Girls hoop: Wilton beats Darien, clinches state spot

The Wilton High girls basketball team relied on a strong defensive effort in a 35-30 win over Darien on Wednesday night at the Zeoli Field House.

The Warriors (8-7) had several chances to put Darien (6-9) away in this low-scoring contest but struggled on the offensive end of the floor. Nevertheless, Wilton head coach Rob Coloney had nothing but praise for his team after a victory that clinched a state tournament berth.

"This team is a special group, and this is a huge win for all the people who doubted the team and the players on it,” said Coloney. “People didn’t think the girls on this team had what it takes to play at this level, and making states is a step to show them that they were wrong.

"Sure, we made some mistakes in tonight’s game, but the team is learning to live with them and work through them," continued Coloney. "Don’t be fooled by Darien’s record coming into this game; they’re a very good team that’s lost a lot of close games. Their coach gets the most out of this team.”

Darien, which dressed only eight players, scored first, but two buckets by Karen Brosko got the host Warriors going. Brosko’s second hoop came on a backdoor feed from Hana Previte.

Meghan Downey and Caroline Sweeny worked a perfect give-and-go, with Downey getting the layup to put Wilton ahead, 11-10, with under a minute to play in the opening period. But Darien hit a bucket as time expired for a 12-11 lead after one.

It would prove to be the Blue Wave's final advantage. Brosko stole a crosscourt pass and converted it into two points to open the second quarter and put Wilton back in front, 13-12. Elizabeth Breslin, called up from the JV team, came off the bench and quickly drained a three-pointer for a 16-12 lead, and the Warriors went into halftime ahead, 20-17.

Wilton’s zone defense was forcing the Blue Wave to work the ball around the perimeter or dump it inside, where Darien had a height advantage. “Darien usually moves the ball on the outside and takes the threes and that’s what we were focusing on," said Coloney. "But tonight they kept passing it inside and they caught us off guard a few times. Seeing that, we made the halftime adjustments to do our best to cut off those entry passes into the post."

Although its offense sputtered, Wilton's defense held strong, helping the hosts grow their lead to 29-22 after three quarters. One of the Warriors' baskets was an open three-pointer from Sweeny, who connected from the top of the key and barely stirred the bottom of the net.

In the fourth quarter, a Christina Holmgren basket gave the Warriors their biggest lead of the night at 33-22. But the Blue Wave wouldn’t go down without a fight. Darien went on an 8-0 run to close to within three points, 33-30, with 2:46 to play.

Both teams missed shots and committed turnovers from that point on, and with under a minute to play it was still anyone’s game. With 25 seconds left, Darien fouled Claire Gulbin, sending her to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Coloney then called a time-out before Gulbin went to the line.

“I wanted to settle the team with the time-out," said Coloney. "Earlier in the season we had the same situation and I had a time-out left and I didn’t use one and that was my mistake.”

Gulbin stepped to the line and sank both ends of the one-and-one for a 35-30 lead. Caylin Cannavino then sealed the victory with a huge defensive rebound in the closing seconds. Cannavino, Sarah Fitzgerald and Previte were the three players that Coloney praised for their defensive efforts.

Brosko led the Warriors with 13 points. Fitzgerald had six points and Gulbin and Sweeny each finished with five points.