The Wilton High girls basketball team opened its 2018-19 season with a 44-27 non-conference win over Harding-Bridgeport on Monday evening at the Zeoli Fieldhouse.

Wilton’s victory came in its first game under new head coach Fred Francello, a former high school and Division I college coach who has returned to the sideline following a 16-year absence.

“The players so far have done everything that I asked them to do,” Francello said. “I’ve been working them as hard as I did my college teams and they are responding well.

“We’re an undersized team, with a lot of young talented players, and it’s going to be a work in progress,” Francello added. “I told them if they play tough on defense we’ll be in the game.”

The Warriors, who lost their entire starting lineup and several top reserves from last year’s conference finalist team, hit the floor with two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores in the starting lineup. Wilton’s roster includes four sophomores and four freshmen.

“What I liked most about their performance tonight was that there were three times that we could have lost the game in the first half, but they settled down, kept their focus and worked through it,” Francello said. “I felt we also controlled the boards at both ends of the court.”

Both teams got off to a sluggish start, with turnovers and fouls slowing the pace. Harding scored the game’s first points, but a three-pointer from Zoe Rappaport with 4:36 left in the first quarter put the Warriors ahead, 5-4, and the hosts did not trail again.

Wilton went four of eight from the foul line to close the opening period with an 11-4 lead.

The Warriors then outscored the Presidents, 15-8, in the second quarter to extend their lead to 26-12 at halftime.

Neither team could buy a basket to start the second half, as the Warriors finally got the first points of the third quarter following a three-minute scoreless drought. Wilton outscored Harding, 9-0, in the period to increase its lead to 35-12.

Harding’s Kiana Johnson got hot for her team in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points as the Presidents ate into Wilton’s lead. But the Warriors were too far away to be caught, finishing with a 17-point triumph.

Francello was able to get all 12 of his players who were dressed for the game onto the court. All but one of those players scored.

Senior Sophia Strazza led Wilton’s balanced scoring with 11 points. Freshman Ellie Copley added five points, and Rappaport, Caitlin Greeff, Riley Eaton, Lily Umphred, and Leah Martins contributed four points apiece. Martins, a freshman, was a prefect four-for-four from the foul line in her varsity debut.

“We had to make a huge adjustment from the way we played last year and we are a much smaller team this year,” Strazza said. “But we have great team chemistry and we are pushing each other and having fun playing together.”

“The game is clearly much faster than eighth grade level play and you’re playing against higher level competition,” said Copley. “I had no idea I was going to make the varsity team, but I’m going to make the best of it.”

Notes:The Warriors attempted 31 free throws, converting 15 of those into points.

Wilton has five more games over the next two weeks before the holiday break. The Warriors play Stamford on the road on Wednesday night before facing Ludlowe in Fairfield on Friday night.