Wilton girls hoop team drops opener to Ludlowe (updated)

Everyone knows that championships aren't won or lost in a team's first game of the season. But if the Wilton High girls basketball team is going to fulfill its preseason billing as the favorite to win the FCIAC title this winter, it will need to play better than it did Wednesday night.

In the season opener for both teams, Wilton lost to Fairfield Ludlowe, 45-42, at the Zeoli Fieldhouse. The Warriors hurt themselves by hitting just five of 20 free throws in the game.

Wilton won the opening tip, but the Falcons scored first and took a 2-0 lead. Wilton then went on an 11-0 run that included three baskets by Erin Cunningham (one a three-pointer) and a nice feed from Makenna Pearsall to an open Karen Brosko under the basket for another bucket. Good early hustle for loose balls and energy by the Warriors, along with sound defense, gave the hosts a nine-point lead.

But Ludlowe finished the quarter with a 13-3 run of its own to erase the Wilton advantage. The Falcons kept their focus and didn't hit the panic button; they played more aggressive defense and worked the ball around on offense for good looks at the basket.

Ludlowe's Caroline Pangallo nailed two treys at the end of the period to give the visitors a 15-14 lead after one.

Both teams went cold to start the second quarter. Cunningham drained a three-pointer with 4:22 left in the period for the first points of the quarter to give Wilton a 17-15 lead. The Falcons then used a 7-0 run late in the second quarter to take a 26-21 lead into halftime.

Wilton came out in the third quarter with a 7-0 run to go back in front midway through the period. Erica Meyer went strong to the hoop for her second basket of the third quarter and was fouled on the play. She converted the three-point play for a 28-26 Wilton lead. Ludlowe quickly tied the game at 28-28 and again closed the quarter on a 7-0 run for a 35-28 lead after three.

Both teams turned the ball over numerous times in the third quarter, and Wilton's free throw shooting was ice cold. But the Warriors showed some fight and pride, as they were able to surge ahead, 40-39, with 2:43 left in the game. The 12-4 run included five points apiece for Meyer and Cunningham. The run was capped with a three-pointer by Cunningham, who had just blocked a Ludlowe shot on the other end of the court to give her team the ball.

Ludlowe made one for two shots from the line to tie the score at 40-40 with 2:17 left. The Falcons were four-of-11 from the line on the night.

With 1:53 to play, Charlotte Blatt drove the lane with a pretty crossover dribble to give Ludlowe a 42-40 lead. A Meyer basket tied the game at 42-42, but that would be the final points for the Warriors.

Cunningham stole the ball on the next Ludlowe possession, but the Warriors promptly turned it back over to the Falcons. Pangallo then hit a free throw to give Ludlowe a 43-42 lead.

Wilton gained possession on another Cunningham block and called a time-out to set its offense. But the hosts had to use another time-out when they couldn't execute. The ensuing inbound pass to Meyer in the paint was picked off by the Falcons, and Wilton was forced to foul.

Pangallo hit both her free throws for a 45-42 Ludlowe lead. Wilton inbounded the ball with nine seconds left, but couldn't get off a final shot.

Wilton's difficulties — rushed offensive sets, with poor shot selections; an inability to find open players when Ludlowe doubled down in the paint; turnovers; and a tendency to allow open shots on defense — spelled defeat for the home team in its opener. Ludlowe, meanwhile, clearly had a more fluent offensive set than did the Warriors.

“We didn't come out and play our game,” said Wilton head coach Jaclyn Porco. “We have to be more organized on offense.

“Ludlowe clearly wanted it more tonight,” continued Porco. “We had some good moments in the game, and I want the seniors to lead the team on the court. Going five for 20 from the free-throw line didn't help either.”

Meyer led Wilton with 16 points. Cunningham added 15 points and Brosko had seven.

Pangallo paced Ludlowe with 13 points.