Wilton girls hoop routs Warde, secures top seed (updated)

The Wilton High girls basketball team had a lot riding on Wednesday night's regular-season finale against Fairfield Warde, as the game was truly the start of the Warriors' post-season.

It had the emotions that come with Senior Night; a Wilton team wanting to avenge its loss to Warde last season; and the spoils that awaited the winner: The top seed for the upcoming FCIAC playoffs. And, in addition, if Wilton won it would move ahead of Warde in the Class LL state tournament rankings.

Unfazed by the peripherals, the Warriors kept their emotions in check, showed the mental toughness needed in playoff game settings, focused on just playing basketball, and came away with another impressive win by soundly beating Warde, 72-50.

It was the 19th straight triumph for the Warriors, who ended the regular season with a 19-1 record.

The Wilton players hit the floor with fire in their eyes, and from early on it was clear that nothing was going to stand in the way of a Warrior victory.

“There were a lot of things on our mind: It was Senior Night, they (the Mustangs) beat us last year, and the top seed in the FCIACs was on the line," said senior co-captain Haley English. "We weren’t going to let them come into our house on this night and let them beat us.

"We wanted to send a message to everyone, that we are not the team we were last year," continued English. "We gained a lot of experience over the past few years and we have the confidence to challenge any team.”

English poured in 15 points in the first half and was one of four Wilton players in double figures on the night.

English’s first three-pointer of the game gave her team a 10-5 lead. But the Mustangs answered right back to tie the score at 10-10 with 3:34 to play in the first. Wilton then closed the first period on an 8-1 run, fueled by six points by English, to lead 18-11.

Another basket by English to open the second quarter had Wilton up 20-11, and it looked as though the Warriors were on their way to a cushy victory. But with six minutes still to play in the quarter the Warriors and their supporters held their collective breath as Wilton’s two top scorers, Erin Cunningham and Erica Meyer, headed to the bench with two personal fouls apiece.

But any optimism Warde gained from those departures vanished when junior Christina Holmgren replaced Meyer. Holmgren scored the next six points for Wilton and had 12 points in the second quarter, extending Wilton's lead to 40-21 at halftime.

“Christina (Holmgren) gave us the spark we needed and helped us not miss a beat and grow our lead,” said Wilton head coach Jaclyn Porco. “She has a tough role, as she plays behind Erica (Meyer) and never knows how many minutes she’s going to get, [but] she comes ready to play. I’m proud of the way she played tonight and so are her teammates."

After the break, Meyer and Cunningham returned to the floor. Warde made a push to get back into the game in the third quarter, but Cunningham and Karen Brosko were there to stop the Mustangs' comeback attempt.

Wilton eventually increased its lead to 60-39 by the end of the third quarter, as Cunningham (10 points in the quarter) and Brosko (eights points) carried the torch for the Warriors. Cunningham connected on two three-pointers during the run, while Brosko was able to shake her defender and get open in the paint for uncontested layups.

The Warriors shut the door on the Mustangs in the final quarter, and Porco pulled her seniors, one by one, to the cheers of the crowd.

Cunningham finished with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds for Wilton. She was again perfect from the foul line, going six-for-six to extend her streak to 15 consecutive made free throws over the last two games.

English and Holmgren each had 16 points and Brosko added 12 points. English, Brosko and Makenna Pearsall had five assists apiece. Pearsall led the team with nine rebounds.

For Warde (18-2), Shania Osborne and Sarah Cotto had 12 points each and Daja Polk added 10 points.

“The team wanted to come out and set the tone in the game and show they have what it takes to win in pressure situations,” said Porco. "Yeah, it’s still the regular season, but the team showed me a lot tonight."

Notes: Wilton's five seniors — Hannah Maatallah, Cunningham, English, Pearsall, and Meyer — were honored before the game.

Wilton will now play eighth-seed Fairfield Ludlowe in the FCIAC quarterfinals Saturday at 7 at Westhill High in Stamford. Ludlowe gave the Warriors their only defeat this season, a 45-42 setback in the season opener.

With the victory, the Warriors also clinched the second overall seed for the Class LL state tournament.