FAIRFIELD >> As the ball sailed through the air, Fairfield Warde sophomore Sarah Cotto stuck up her right arm getting just enough reach to deflect the pass intended for Wilton. Teammate and Warde senior Kaitlin McKenna grabbed the ball and passed to Lejla Markovic who was fouled and sealed the win with a made free throw.
While on the sideline with less than five seconds remaining, Warde head coach Dave Danko gave a swift pump of the arm in approval of the sequence of plays. It was that kind of night for the Mustangs. As they struggled offensively at times, in the end it was an aggressive and overbearing defense that was the difference in a 41-36 victory over eighth-ranked Wilton.
“It was a really big win, I’m excited about it,” Markovic said.
“Matchups were the key,” Danko said.
Finding the right personnel, what would work and what wouldn’t, was the difference for the Mustangs Friday evening, which happened to double as Senior Night.
After a sluggish start for Warde (13-3, 14-4) that saw Wilton (14-2 16-2) jump out an 11-3 lead, led by Erin Cunningham five points in the first quarter, and dominating the paint at times, the Mustangs settled down.
Warde found some rhythm toward the end of the opening quarter and carried that with them the rest of the way.
“Once we established our defense and once we got in the passing lanes, we played our game,” Danko said.
Warde’s game included a sound defense, that featured an imposing 1-3-1 zone, speed and timely plays everywhere. That included Cotto coming up big from behind the arc. She finished with a team-high 10 points, including five in a pivotal second quarter. The Mustangs outscored Wilton 12-5 to take a 22-20 advantage into the half.
“I think once we settled down and started rebounding, we started banging around and we got some key rebounds,” Danko said.
Warde set the tone in the beginning of the third quarter as they forced four straight turnovers and went on a 4-0 run. They held Wilton to seven points, and never allowed the Warriors back into the game.
“It opened up the game,” Danko said of their third quarter start. “I thought we got a little cushion there and I think they got a little deflated. “
Seven players scored for Warde as Markovic netted eight points in the victory.
“I knew I had to make big defensive stops and make good offensive decisions to help my team,” Markovic said.
Wilton was paced by Cunningham’s 12 points.
Warde now is in fourth place in the FCIAC playoff standings as they travel to Trumbull on Monday and finish off the regular season against Trinity Catholic.