FAIRFIELD >> The Fairfield Warde boys’ basketball team’s first conference win of the season came later expected, much later, but when it did arrive, it didn’t disappoint.
Tuesday evening in front of a raucous crowd at Warde Gymnasium, Nick Cotto led a gutsy fourth-quarter performance against crosstown rival Ludlowe to send the game into overtime.
In the final four minutes, one made free throw and a key defensive stop at the end, gave Warde the 47-46 victory as they improved to 2-13 and 1-12 in the FCIAC.
“I told them to it feels good to win again,” Warde head coach Ryan Swaller said with a smile.
The win for Warde came after an exciting fourth quarter that looked to be over at one point, but was clearly not. The Falcons used a stifling defensive third quarter effort to limit Warde to just five points. The Falcons went into the fourth with a 29-27 lead.
“As I told them, I think we were down four with a minute left, and I said there’s no giving up. We were able to get two big defenses stops and two good offensive possessions right after that to come back and tie the game.”
With 26 seconds left, Ludlowe’s Chad Peterson was fouled and was sent to the free-throw line where he sank both to give the Falcons the 40-38 edge. Warde, however, drove the length of the court and Giacomo Brancato got off a crafty off-balance layup that rattled in to tie the game at 40 and send it to overtime.
Once in extra time it was more of the same back and forth. Down by two points, Peterson was fouled once again and he made the pair to tie it at 46. With 25 seconds remaining, the Mustangs drove down the court, attacked the basket and were fouled after multiple attempts and rebounds. Senior Brian Kerrigan who had just five points up to that point, went to the line with 5.1 seconds remaining. He missed the first and then sank the second to give Warde the eventual game-winning bucket.
On Ludlowe’s final possession, they were met with a solid defense from Warde and didn’t get off the best shot as Warde held on for the win.
“I was very proud of our defensive effort tonight,” Swaller said. “He (Kerrigan) wants to be our leader and he is our leader,” Swaller said. “He always steps in and does it vocally. Tonight he had a chance to do it at the line and he did what he needed to do.”
Added Ludlowe head coach John Dailey: “Expected a close game for sure. They (Warde) play very hard and they play a lot harder when they play us.”
Cotto paced Warde with a game-high 21 points, while Brancato was terrific down the stretch scoring 16.
While Warde was able to celebrate the win, the loss for Ludlowe meant a little more as the Falcons are still playing for a spot in the state tournament. With the loss Tuesday, Ludlowe (4-11, 4-9) will need to win four of the final five games on the schedule.
“This is really, really tough for the kids,” Dailey said. “We’re still alive this will define what kind of character we have for sure.”
The Falcons were paced by Peterson’s 11 points and 13 boards.
While it was an exciting second half that saw Warde rally from five down with 1:03 left in the contest, the first half was a much slower start than Dailey would have liked. The Falcons were held to just five points in the first quarter and trailed 24-15 at the half.
“We looked tentative, we looked a little nervous,” Dailey said.