It might not have been a win, but a 40-35 setback to always-tough Fairfield Warde last Thursday was a sign of progress — perhaps even a turning point — for the Wilton High girls basketball team.
“We did a good job. I told them ‘obviously you’re disappointed you got beaten but that’s the only thing you can be disappointed with,’ ” Wilton coach Fred Francello said of his postgame talk.
Wilton (2-9) hung in there with Warde, which improved to 7-5.
The game was tied 19-19 at the half, and Warde led 29-24 through three quarters. The Warriors weren’t out of contention until the final moments.
“I was pleased. It was our first complete game. This was a very positive, good, big step forward for us,” Francello said of his young squad.
Riley Eaton scored nine points and had 10 rebounds and Catherine Dineen dropped in eight points for Wilton. Leah Martins had six points on a pair of 3-pointers; Maddie Burke added five points; Sophie Strazza scored five points and grabbed five rebounds; and Zoe Rappaport contributed three points.
Francello said that sophomores Lily Umphred and Callie Judelson also had good games for the Warriors.
Warde got 14 points from Kristina Krasniqi, eight from Caroline Aufiero, five from Ava Fitzpatrick, and six from Aleysha Henry.
Krasniqi had seven rebounds, five assists and seven steals, while Carolyn Mills contributed four assists and Aufiero had six rebounds.
Both teams struggled to score in the opening quarter, which included frequent turnovers.
Eaton worked hard to force held balls, defend and rebound, and the Warriors had a pair of three-point leads in the opening period. Burke, who was solid on the glass, banked home a shot from straight away for a 7-4 Wilton lead.
With Warde ahead 10-7 in the second quarter, Eaton put together a handful of difference-making plays to help the Warriors regain the lead. She had a long drive to the hoop for two points, forced a held ball on the defensive end to give Wilton possession, drew a charge, and took a backdoor pass from Martins for a bucket to give the Warriors an 11-10 edge.
“I think we showed good patience tonight. We got some nice, easy baskets on the weak side and in the lane,” Francello said.
The teams traded baskets, with Martins draining a 3-pointer for a 14-12 Wilton lead. Strazza’s steal and end-to-end drive pushed the lead to 16-12.
Warde got a free throw and a 3-pointer from Krasniqi to tie the game. Martins then hit her second 3-pointer for a 19-16 Wilton lead, but Fitzpatrick answered with a trey of her own to tie the score going into the break.
Dineen had six points in the second half, and Wilton’s defense continued to keep things close.
Dineen and Martins, both freshmen, had outstanding games, Francello said.
“Our rebounding was terrific. We’re not big. We did an excellent job against bigger people. We did a good job contesting their 3-point shots,” Francello said. “They’re a very good team.”
Given the level of competition and how well Wilton played from start to finish, Francello believes this contest could be a turning point.
“I told the players this was not a small step forward. I said this was a huge step forward,” Francello said. “That doesn’t buy us the next game. We have to repeat the effort, the execution, the patience.”