FAIRFIELD >> Maybe a year ago the Fairfield Ludlowe girls’ basketball team would have reacted differently to Monday night’s situation; who knows. But what head coach Sarah Huntington did learn Monday evening is this isn’t the same team from a season ago.
Down by 13 points at the half to crosstown rival Fairfield Warde (5-1) in the championship game of the Todd Burger Holiday Tournament, the Falcons were faced with a challenge in the final 16 minutes of action. Led by junior Caroline Pangallo’s 20 points, a more mature and experienced Falcons squad responded and rallied for the 51-50 victory over the Mustangs to improve to 6-0 on the season.
“One of the things that we really talked about is mental toughness,” Huntington said. “And that doesn’t mean hardness, that doesn’t mean strength, that means rising above some of the stuff that doesn’t go our way, and this was really about toughness tonight for these girls. They rose above having that deficit and really believed in each other and believed in themselves. And I really think those intangibles are what carried us.”
A season ago, a young and still growing Falcons squad lost four games by five points or less. Against Warde, the pesky and frustrating internal aspects went away when it mattered most. After a disappointing opening half for Ludlowe, where a solid and unfazed Warde squad took advantage of multiple Ludlowe errors and built a double-digit lead with a stout defensive effort, the Falcons answered in the second half.
“When the rails were kind of going off the tracks, they refocused, they got right back on track,” Huntington said her team.
The Falcons were able to find a balanced offensive rhythm as they outscored the Mustangs 19-7 in the third quarter. Pangallo, who was named the tournament MVP, scored 10 of her game-high 20 in the third as Ludlowe entered the fourth down 36-35.
Huntington also credited a switch defensively as the Falcons employed a zone attack that limited some of Warde’s easy looks in the paint.
“Our mentality just changed in the second half,” Pangallo said.
In a back and forth final eight minutes, it was again the resilience of Ludlowe that took over. With less than three minutes to play, Warde’s Sarah Cotto was fouled and sank three free throws to tie the game at 44. The Falcons responded as Charlotte Blatt made one free throw and then a possession later, Pangallo hit teammate Alex McKinnon for the layup and the 47-44 lead. Warde answered with a basket and senior Pauline Blatt scored her first field goal with 46.6 seconds remaining to put Ludlowe up 49-46. Warde’s Kenzie Burns made a layup with 20 seconds left, but Pangallo put the game way with two made free throws to give Ludlowe the 51-48 advantage. Warde’s Tiara Fountain, who had a team-high 16 points, made a layup at the end for the final 51-50 score.
Warde head coach Dave Danko stressed it’s still early in the season and both teams, which are on the path to making the postseason, will see each other in February.
“We realize we have to be a little more crisp with our passes, that we have to be better with our entry passes,” Danko said of his team.
Kaitlin McKenna and Lejla Markovic each netted eight points for Warde in the loss. The Mustangs will get another big test on Friday against Greenwich.
“Let’s see how we respond,” Danko said of his team.
For Ludlowe, Regan Steed scored nine points, as eight players found the net for the Falcons.
“Warde is a tough team this year, this is such a huge win for us,” Pangallo said.