Wilton girls advance to first-ever state title game (updated)

After years of hard work and perseverance, the chips have finally fallen into place for the Wilton High girls basketball team.

Behind 24 points from 6'3" center Erica Meyer, the second-seeded Warriors held off third-seed Mercy, 55-54, in the Class LL semifinals Monday night at Jonathan Law High School in Milford.

With the victory, Wilton advanced to the state finals for the first time in program history. Wilton (23-2) will now play top-seed South Windsor for the Class LL title on either Saturday or Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. South Windsor defeated fourth-seed NFA in another semifinal on Monday.

“I posted up in the paint and they were overplaying me and I took advantage of it,” said Meyer. “My teammates got me the ball and I was able to get to the basket. We stayed positive tonight and played to our strengths. Our experiences of previous years' losses in playoff games helped us get the victory tonight."

Down 44-41 after three quarters, the Warriors quickly tied the game on Karen Brosko’s three-pointer to open the fourth period. A basket by Erica Meyer and a three-pointer from Erin Cunningham then staked Wilton to a 49-45 lead with 4:05 to play. The Warriors went ahead 53-48 when Meyer scored from the post with two minutes left.

Wilton had a chance to up its lead when Brosko picked off a Mercy inbound pass at midcourt, but the Warriors couldn’t convert it into points. Mercy got a layup from Maura Fitzpatrick and a steal and layup from Destine Perry to close within one, 53-52, with 42 seconds to go.

Two free throws from Brosko with 36.3 seconds left put Wilton ahead 55-52, but Kendra Landy answered with a basket to get Mercy within 55-54 with less than 10 seconds left. Haley English was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one — giving Mercy a chance to tie the score or go ahead — but English redeemed herself by stealing the ball from Landy with 1.6 seconds left and getting fouled again.

English misfired on the front end of the one-and-one, but when Mercy’s desperation heave at the buzzer was no good it was the Warriors who were headed to the state championship game.

The game was played in front of a raucous crowd — not that Brosko minded.

“The noise of the crowd actually helped me making my free throws," she said. "I’m one of those players that quiet doesn’t work for me."

Brosko was clearly the X-factor for Wilton in the game, hitting for 14 points. With Mercy keeping Cunningham (seven points) in check, Brosko stepped up big time for the Warriors.

Wilton had 17-10 lead late in the opening quarter before Mercy closed the period on a 6-0 run to trail 17-16 after the first eight minutes. Meyer scored 11 points in the quarter, using her clear height advantage to prove unstoppable in the paint.

“We wanted to come out and win the first four minutes of the game,” said Wilton head coach Jaclyn Woitkowski Porco. “We figured if we could do that it would settle us down with the excitement of the game and give the team confidence that they could come away with the win.”

Samantha Gallo gave the Tigers their first lead at 18-17 with a basket to start the second quarter. Cunningham hit two free throws for her first points of the night to tie the score at 24-24 with 5:01 to play in the period, but Mercy gave itself some breathing room on the scoreboard with an 11-2 run to take a 35-26 lead into halftime.

“Our coach told us at halftime to keep our focus and work hard and make sure that we were the team with the last run in the game,” said Brosko.

Wilton opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run behind five straight points from Meyer and a basket from Makenna Pearsall to cut the Mercy lead to 35-33. The Warrior defense raised its intensity level, holding the Tigers scoreless for the first 4:43 of the period.

Wilton's confidence was growing with each basket and defensive stop, and it was obvious that the Warriors weren't just content to be playing in the semifinals — they were there to win.

"We got a great team effort tonight," said Woitkowski Porco. “We don’t design our offense around one player because if the other team takes her out of the game we would have problems.

"We knew it was going to be a physical game and my team responded to it well. The team didn’t hang their heads when they were behind; they stayed focused and came away winners."

Notes: English contributed seven points for Wilton.

Pearsall led the Warriors with nine rebounds and seven assists on the night.

Landy had a team-high 19 points for Mercy, which ended the season with a 25-2 record. Mercy's only other loss was to Capital Prep, the state's top-ranked team, during the regular season.