FAIRFIELD — Trumbull senior Krystina Schueler stepped to the foul line with 1.3 seconds remaining and her Eagles deadlocked with town rivals St. Joseph in a game to benefit the American Cancer Society on Saturday at Fairfield University’s Alumni Hall.
After the Cadets’ Emma Elrod had sunk a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 46 with six seconds left, Schueler slipped by St. Joseph’s defense on an ensuing inbound from halfcourt via a back screen. She was hit hard by Kathryn Zito, who prevented the game-winning layup with a professional foul.
Schueler’s first free-throw attempt rattled out, but her second one rippled through the cylinder. St. Joseph’s desperation heave across court then sailed out of bounds, as Trumbull, ranked fourth in the GameTimeCT Top 10 Poll, escaped with a thrilling 47-46 FCIAC victory.
“It was loud,” Schueler said of the thunderous sound generated from the full bleachers. “With FCIACs (in basketball and volleyball) I’m used to large crowds. This was special against a big rival and with all the fans.”
The Eagles (15-1, 11-0 FCIAC) never trailed in the contest, opening the game on a 16-2 run, and the only time the game was tied after tip-off was after Elrod’s clutch 3-pointer.
“I was impressed at how we came out to open the game,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “Credit to St. Joe’s…We never felt safe, but our girls stuck together. Our players have smart basketball IQs. We drew the inbounds up on the fly. Allie Palmieri set the screen for Krystina and Cassi Barbato got her the ball.
“Krystina never gets frazzled. She is the same kid every game…She always shows up ready to compete. This was a great game at a great place and for a great cause.”
Trumbull led by as many as 16 points in the second half, extending their margin to 40-24 following a jumper from Palmieri with 2:00 left in the third quarter, but the Cadets dug in behind stout man-to-man defense.
Trumbull torched St. Joseph for 33 points in the first half, bolstered by seven 3-pointers — including four from Barbato.
“In the beginning, I didn’t think we could play them man-to-man… I thought we’d be able to cover their shooters in the zone, but Cassi was on fire,” Cadets’ head coach Chris Lindwall said.
St. Joseph refocused on man defense and held all of Trumbull’s players without a field goal for the entire second half, sans Palmieri, who scored 11 of her 18 points over the final two quarters.
Following Palmieri’s basket to push the Trumbull lead to 16, Kaitlin Capobianco closed the third quarter with a layup and a brace of free throws to whittle the Cadet gap to 40-28.
Those four points sparked an 11-1 St. Joseph run, capped by a layup from Elrod with 5:12 left to play that led to a Trumbull timeout.
Elrod, who poured in a game-high 20 points, then drained a 3-pointer at the 1:24 mark to get St. Joseph within four at 45-41. The Eagles settled for 3-point attempts of their own, both off target, on their next two possessions instead of salting time off of the clock, giving the Cadets a chance.
Elrod spun to the hoop for a basket to make it 46-43 with 26 seconds left, before Schueler misfired on the front end of a one-and-one.
After collecting the rebound, Elrod dribbled up the right side and drilled a pull-up 3-pointer from the right wing to tie it up at 46.
On the ensuing inbounds, St. Joseph (8-8, 7-5) almost came up with a steal on a deflection, but Trumbull retained possession and inbounded from halfcourt. The play Tobitsch drew up got Schueler free and after the foul she was able to shoot the Eagles to their 15th win of the season.
“We knew it was coming, we just didn’t play it well,” Lindwall said. “We were supposed to switch that screen and we didn’t switch it. That doesn’t determine the game. The thing of it is, the way our kids played today, especially in the second half… I don’t know if I’ve had a prouder moment in four years since 2015 (when St. Joseph won the Class M state title) than that. It was just absolutely incredible.”
Even after absorbing a last-second defeat, Lindwall made it a point to thank the town of Trumbull for coming out to create a raucous atmosphere for the game.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” Lindwall said. “The support of the town, the surrounding towns, our sponsors and our title sponsor, Napoli Nissan, they really stepped it up in order for us to have this event this year.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Just one more play.”
TRUMBULL 47, ST. JOSEPH 46
Meghan Lesko 3 0-0 8; Krystina Schueler 2 3-7 7; Cassi Barbato 5 0-0 14; Allie Palmieri 7 3-5 18.
Totals: 15 6-12 47.
St. Joseph (8-8)
Veronica Lubas 0 2-2 2; Kathryn Zito 1 1-2 3; Kate Rudini 0 3-5 3; Kaitlin Capobianco 4 1-2 11; Rahmia Johnston 1 0-3 2; Maddie Johnson 0 0-2 0; Denneye Hinds 1 3-4 5; Emma Elrod 8 1-2 20.
Totals 15 11-22 46.
Scores by quarter
Trumbull 21 12 7 7 — 47
St. Joseph 10 13 5 18 — 46
Three-pointers: T—Lesko 2, Barbato 4, Palmieri 1; St. Joe—Capobianco 2, Elrod 3