FAIRFIELD >> Maybe a few weeks ago they would have reacted different. But Friday evening with the score tied at 59 against Pomperaug and the game on the line, the Notre Dame of Fairfield girls’ basketball team didn’t panic or show their youth. Instead, senior Brianna Mann got the ball underneath, made a nice move, scored and was fouled. She converted on the free throw to give the Lancers the 62-59 lead with less than a minute in the game.
The next play, the Lancers came up with the steal and junior Nakia Mabin made one free throw to seal the win. Pomperaug made a last-second three but Notre Dame went on to win 63-62 to improve to 7-8 on the season.
“If you looked at us two and a half weeks ago, if we were a car, we would have been rolling around on one wheel and three rims,” Lancers head coach Eric DeMarco said. “Tonight we played consistently longer than we have probably any game all season, and we did it against a very good team. I can’t be anymore prouder of the girls.”
The win for the Lancers was indicative of the growth and maturation of a team that is slowly finding its identity. The Lancers have won their last three games and are now one game away from qualifying for the state tournament.
“It was a really big win for us,” Mann said. “It took a while for us to get here. But we’re disciplined. We fought to the end.”
It was a balanced effort offensively for Notre Dame in the win, as Mann and Mabin led the way with an imposing and dominant inside game. Mabin finished with 13 points, nine of which came in the final quarter. Mann added 18 points.
As well as those two played, it was also their presence inside that helped create other opportunities. Junior guard Kayla Croswell had a big night scoring 18 points, including some nice drives to the rim. Raina Ceryak added eight.
“When our inside kids can play strong inside, like they have been doing, and they did tonight, it just opens it up for our slashing guards and for our shooters. They’ve been playing very cohesively together.”
Mann, who is the only returning starter for the team, said it’s taken awhile and been hard at times, watching and waiting for the growth. But as the season has progressed so has the team.
“It’s been a struggle,” Mann said. “But it’s taught me to learn patience and it really taught me to be a captain.”
After a strong opening quarter where Notre Dame led 19-12, Pomperaug (10-4) found a nice rhythm and took advantage of a few Lancers defensive lapses to take a 29-27 lead at the half.
The final two quarters however, Notre Dame was able to build a lead and fought off a pesky and resilient Pomperaug squad down the stretch.
Pomeraug was paced by Katelyn Perrotti who had a terrific game scoring a game-high 22 points. Teammate Laura Rubinstein chipped in 13 in the loss.
“As much as the defensive lapses hurt me, tonight we were able to offset that with a much more balanced offensive effort,” DeMarco said.
Added Mann: “We found our strength, which is inside. We’re bigger than a lot of teams, and we’ve figured out how to use that and we’re tough to stop with that going.”