FAIRFIELD — The Warde girls basketball team has had its fair share of heart-breaking setbacks this season.
The Mustangs suffered tough losses to Danbury, Stamford, Staples, Ridgefield and St. Joseph, and going into Wednesday’s game against cross-town rival Ludlowe, which had won six of its last seven games, they may have been viewed as the underdog.
Warde took a three-point lead at halftime and pulled away from Ludlowe in the third quarter en route to a decisive 54-34 road victory over the Falcons at Ludlowe.
“Our record doesn’t indicate how hard these girls fought for me all year,” Warde head coach Dave Danko said. “Last year we won four or five games that we pulled out. To see the three seniors take control and for them to go four years and never lose to Ludlowe, an outstanding team, a playoff team and a team on the rise, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Leading the way for the Mustangs was junior Alyesha Henry, who just missed out on a double-double, finishing with 17 points, including five 3-pointers, and nine rebounds. Senior Kristina Krasniqi chipped in with 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals and senior Caroline Aufiero had nine points, four assists and two steals.
Warde was relentless on defense and forced Ludlowe into a number of turnovers. The Mustangs took the lead for good at 19-18 off a steal by senior Ava Fitzpatrick and fast-break layup with 1:32 remaining until halftime.
The Falcons, who were led by Anna Paulmann’s 14 points and eight rebounds, twice pulled within a point, at 25-24 off a 3-pointer by Juliet Bucher with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter and 27-26 off a basket by Anna Paulmann (3:20).
Warde outscored Ludlowe 13-2 to close the quarter with a 40-28 lead and the Mustangs never looked back, outscoring the Falcons 14-6 in the fourth to put the game away.
“We got outplayed and outhustled tonight in many possessions,” said Ludlowe head coach Sara Kinsley, whose team has now lost two straight. “We find strength in our defensive intensity and when we had defensive stops, which helped to carry us into positive offensive plays. We didn’t have enough of that positivity tonight.”
Henry drained three of her five 3-pointers in the third quarter, including one with seven seconds left that carried the Mustangs to a 40-28 lead going into the final frame.
Henry said it was one of the bigger victories of the season for Warde.
“At that moment I was thinking I needed to make that shot and really focus on it,” Henry said. “This is definitely a huge win for us. It’s going help us a lot in the future with our state ranking.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Aleysha Henry, Warde. The junior came through with 17 points and nine rebounds in the win.
Kristina Krasniqi, Warde. The guard/forward capped her senior season with another victory over the Falcons and had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
In the closing seconds of the third quarter, Caroline Aufiero missed the front end of a 1-in-1 and teammate Ava Fitzpatrick gathered the rebound before finding Henry for a 3-pointer with seven seconds on the clock to put the Mustangs ahead 40-28.
Danko is 15-2 against Ludlowe since the schools split and the last time the Mustangs lost to the Falcons was in 2011.
“The seniors refused to lose this game,” Danko said. “Early on we set the tone, we trapped, we turned them over and dictated where they (Ludlowe) were going. They made the extra pass, skip pass, but overall the defense was solid and that was key — creating off our defense for our offense, setting the table.”
“We’re not an 11-9 team and you’ll see in the state tournament,” Danko added. “We’re much better than that.”
“This is exactly what we wanted,” Krasniqi said. “This was our main goal throughout the whole season and to finally get this win and beat them by 20 points feels absolutely amazing.”
“We are moving forward and refocusing because Saturday is a whole other game,” said Kinsley, whose team was sitting on the No. 6 seed going into Wednesday’s game.
Warde will now gear up for the Class LL state tournament while Ludlowe will be playing in Saturday’s FCIAC quarterfinals.
WARDE 54, LUDLOWE 34
WARDE 8 13 19 14—54
LUDLOWE 11 7 10 6—34
WARDE (11-9, 8-8 FCIAC)
Caroline Aufiero 3 3-5 9; Kristina Krasniqi 4 4-4 13; Ava Fitzpatrick 2 3-5 7; Toni Lamparski 2 0-0 6; Alyesha Henry 6 0-1 17; Kirsten Rodriguez 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 10-15 54.
LUDLOWE (14-6, 10-6 FCIAC)
Juliet Bucher 3 0-0 9; Emma Torello 1 0-0 3; Anna Paulmann 5 4-5 14; Bridget Paulmann 2 2-2 6; Paige O’Connell 0 2-2 2. Toatls: 11 8-9 34.
3-pointers: W—Henry 5, Lamparski 2, Krasniqi. L—Bucher 3, Torello. Fouled out: None.