Girls hoop: Wilton tops Staples, earns FCIAC berth

Monday’s noon matinee at the Zeoli Field House pitted two girls basketball teams with post-season dreams on their minds.

When it was over, the host Warriors had punched another playoff ticket.

Rallying from an eight-point halftime deficit, Wilton defeated Staples, 40-30, to clinch a spot in the eight-team FCIAC tournament, which begins with quarterfinal games this Saturday. The Warriors, who improved to 10-9, had previously qualified for the state tournament.

Staples (7-12) now needs to upset FCIAC overall leader Fairfield Warde in its final regular-season game to get its eighth victory and qualify for the state tournament.

After taking over a team that graduated four starters from last season's Class LL state championship squad, first-year Wilton head coach Rob Coloney was full of praise for his players following Monday's comeback win.

“I couldn’t be happier for the girls on this team for what they accomplished this year; no one gave them a chance to qualify for post-season play and now we are going to both the conference and state playoffs,” said Coloney. “They’re a great group of girls, who set goals for themselves and now they have achieved them.

"They are a smart bunch," added Coloney. "I believed in them since the beginning of the year; I just had to get them to believe in themselves. We had a lot of bumps in the road to get where we are today and some of it wasn’t pretty, but we have to just look ahead and not back."

Both teams got off to cold starts. The Wreckers didn’t find the bottom of the net until 2:54 remained in the opening quarter, making the score 4-2 in favor of Wilton at that point. The Wilton defense was in lock-down mode in the first quarter, forcing long offensive possessions on which Staples came up empty.

But Staples took its first lead to the game with 5:49 to play in the second period when Alyssa Perry drained a three-pointer to put the Wreckers up, 8-7. The pace remained slow, and the score was tied at 9-9 with 3:06 left before halftime.

That quickly changed, as Staples hit three three-pointers in the final minutes to go on a 13-5 run and take a 22-14 lead at the break.

"At halftime I told the girls that their effort and intensity in the first half was poor," said Coloney. "We needed to pressure the ball more and push the ball ... and create better scoring opportunities.”

The Warriors responded by opening the third quarter with an 8-0 run to tie the score at 22-22 with 5:22 left in the period. Karen Brosko began the spurt with a put-back basket, which was followed by buckets from Taylor Ingerman and Hana Previte. Christina Holmgren then stole an inbound pass and fed Brosko for a layup that tied the score.

Wilton kept the momentum going, outscoring the Wreckers, 16-4, in the third quarter to go ahead, 30-26, through three quarters.

“We knew what was on the line for us at halftime," said Brosko, one of the team's senior captains. "[Fellow senior] Co-captain Caraline Higgins, who is sidelined with an injury, refocused the team at halftime to stress the weight of this game and what it meant.”

Staples opened the fourth quarter with a basket to cut the Warriors' lead to two points, 30-28, but two baskets by Holmgren and four straight free throws from Claire Gulbin sealed the win for Wilton, which held the Wreckers to eight points in the second half.

Brosko led the Warriors with nine points, while Holmgren and Ingerman chipped in with eight points apiece. Wilton went to the foul line 26 times, but only converted 11 of them.           

“I’m very excited that we made FCIACs," said Brosko. "We just have to go out there and give it our best effort.”

Notes: Olivia Troy, who had 10 points in the first half, finished the game with 12 points for Staples.

The Warriors attempted 26 free throws but made just 11 of them.

Wilton concludes its regular season Wednesday night with a road game against New Canaan .