FAIRFIELD >> Defense has been the name of the game for Fairfield Warde High School’s girls basketball team. And the Mustangs, behind yet another strong effort in the backcourt, took a step in what they hope will be a path to a state title with a 49-29 triumph over visiting Fairfield Ludlowe on March 4.
The Mustangs (20-2), seeded second in the Class LL bracket, advanced to face No. 10 Greenwich in the quarterfinals on March 7.
Shania Osborne scored 14 points and Lejla Markovic added 11, nine of which came on a trio of 3-pointers to pace the Mustang offense. Daja Polk scored nine, Iliana Krasniqi had seven points, Sarah Cotto dropped in four and Olivia Parisi tacked on two.
Ludlowe got 12 points from Peyton Brown, eight from Alex McKinnon, six from Julia Pangallo and three from Regan Steed.
Warde led just 8-6 after one quarter of play but outscored the Falcons 14-3 in the second period to build a 22-9 lead at halftime.
“Our offense wasn’t flowing but our defense was solid. We have to thrive off our defense and set the tone,” Warde coach Dave Danko said.
Polk had four steals, Markovic had three steals and Osborne blocked five shots to spark the defensive effort against Ludlowe.
Ludlowe Coach Jason Purzycki noted that the Mustangs trapped well. “They’re good at closing out our shooters and jumping the passes,” Purzycki said. “They took us out of our offensive rhythm a little bit.”
Warde pulled away early in the third quarter as Osborne opened the second-half scoring with a bucket down low, and Polk followed with a 3-pointer.
Out of the break, the Mustangs held the Falcons off the scoreboard until McKinnon hit a pair of free throws 3:24 into the third. By then, the Mustangs had an 18-point lead.
Down 33-14 to start the fourth, Ludlowe got a 3-pointer from Steed, but the Mustangs responded with a 10-0 run started by consecutive 3-point trips down the floor: Krasniqi’s 3-point play the old fashioned way and one of Markovic’s shot from downtown.
“We have a good shot of getting far – we work well together. Our defensive pressure is very high,” said Markovic, a captain.
“I think we can go pretty far with our defense,” Osborne added.
Warde’s third step in the tourney seems to be a tough one given Greenwich held a late lead before the Mustangs rallied to win 50-47 on the road in a game in which Warde’s stellar defense made the comeback possible, Danko noted.
Purzycki said the Falcons had an excellent season especially considering they graduated a big portion of the roster a year ago. His three seniors, Pangallo, Steed and McKinnon provided tremendous heart, Purzycki said, and the coach is hopeful the younger players feed off their leadership.
“It was an amazing year,” the Ludlowe coach said.