Wilton outlasts Warde, 92-90, in FCIAC playoffs

For the second time this season it took extra time to decide a game between the Wilton and Fairfield Warde boys basketball teams.

Only this time the stakes were higher and the outcome was different.

In two heart-stopping overtimes, fifth-seed Wilton defeated fourth-seed Warde, 92-90, in an FCIAC quarterfinal playoff game Saturday at Fairfield Ludlowe.

The Warriors (14-7) will now play top-seed Danbury (19-2) in the conference semifinals on Tuesday night at Fairfield Warde.

Junior guard Matt Kronenberg had the game of his high school career to lead Wilton. Kronenberg poured in 39 points, which included 20 free throws (on 29 attempts).

“The rims were a little tight and late in the fourth quarter I didn’t get the leg push on my foul shots and I went into a cold streak,” said Kronenberg. “But my teammates picked me up and the energy from our fans got me to refocus. We practice foul shots at the end of all our practices, so we are kind of used to taking them when tired."

Wilton, which was ahead since the middle of the second quarter, found itself up by 11 points, 63-52, with 3:50 to play in the fourth quarter. The Warriors were still ahead by nine points, 64-55, with 2:25 left in regulation when Warde starting fouling. The strategy paid off, as Wilton went five of 10 from the line in the closing minutes of regulation, while Warde tallied 14 points to tie the game at 69-69 and force the first overtime.

Warde sophomore Antonio Brancato got the tying basket on a drive to the hoop with 7.1 seconds remaining, and when the Warriors turned the ball over the Mustangs got off a half-court heave that came up just short.

The lead changed hands several times early in the first overtime, and with 40 seconds remaining the Warriors were ahead, 80-76. The lead was fueled by freshman Nick Kronenberg’s three-pointer from the wing.

But with 30 seconds left, Brancato drove the lane for a bucket and got fouled. Brancato converted the free throw to pull the Mustangs to within one at 80-79. Matt Kronenberg then hit one of two free throws to make it 81-79, but Brancato knocked down another basket to tie the game at 81-81 and force a second overtime.

Baskets by Michael Brown and James Maloney gave Wilton a quick 85-81 lead. The Mustangs had a chance to tie the score, but it was their turn to go cold from the foul line as Marcel Parsons missed four free throws on back to back trips to the line.

Matt Kronenberg capped his big night and sealed the win for Wilton by scoring the team's final seven points on two baskets and three free throws. Parsons nailed a three-pointer in the closing seconds, but the Warriors held on for the win.

“A lot of teams didn’t think we would be back in the FCIACs this year after all the seniors we lost from last season," said Kronenberg. "We worked hard all season long, believed in ourselves, stayed focused, and never doubted ourselves on getting back here.”

“Yes, it was an exciting game, but I could have done without the overtimes,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak. “We got what we came here for, which was a win, that’s all that matters. We didn’t close down the lane and they kept exploiting that with success. When we were up by 11 points midway through the fourth quarter, I told the kids don’t rush things, look for good shots. These kids have battled all year long and gave me another complete effort."

In addition to Kronenberg’s 39 points, Jack Williams had 14 points for Wilton, which also got 13 points from Drew Connolly and 11 points from James Maloney.

Warde (12-9) was led by the Brancato brothers, as Giacomo Brancato had 24 points before fouling out and Antonio Brancato added 20 points.

Notes: Seven players (five from Warde) fouled out during the game.

Warde had beaten the Warriors, 84-78, in overtime in a regular-season meeting.