FAIRFIELD >> What a difference a full season makes. A year wiser and more experienced, the Fairfield Warde girls’ basketball team was ready for what Friday night’s game presented.
After jumping out to a 10-2 lead against Ridgefield, the Mustangs became immersed in a back and forth battle as the Tigers slowly came back. But when Warde needed an answer late down the stretch, there was no hesitation. After Ridgefield took a 36-35 on a Rebecca Lawrence free throw, senior Kaitlin McKenna knocked down a short jumper and then the Mustangs followed it up with a steal and sophomore Sarah Cotto scored to put Warde up 39-36 with under a minute to play. The Mustangs sank a few key free throws in the final 60 seconds to secure the 45-40 victory.
“In years past we might have let that one slip away,” Warde head coach Dave Danko said. “You know the sign of a veteran team.”
Warde was led by McKenna’s 17 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Lajla Markovic added eight points and hit three free throws in the fourth and senior Tiara Fountain added seven points as she went 3 for 4 form the line in the final eight minutes.
This is the first time Warde is 2-0 on the season since 2008-09, the year the Mustangs advanced to the Class L state final.
“They deserve that. They’re seniors, if they continue, we have something special here,” Danko said of his team.
Warde received a valiant comeback effort from Ridgefield (0-2) who didn’t back down after a lopsided first few minutes to the game. Lawrence, a sophomore, led the Tigers with 10 points as she made 4 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter to keep her team in the game. But again, Danko alluded to his team having that veteran aspect that took over in the final quarter to get the win. There was at least five lead changes in the fourth quarter as Warde connected on 9 of 16 free throw opportunities in the fourth.
“You can see the confidence,” Danko said. “They’re seniors. They’re going to get it done. That team (Ridgefield) is a Top five team. But we’re pretty good, I believe in these kids and they worked hard to be in this situation.”
Warde was able to pull off the win on a night when baskets were not coming easy. The Mustangs struggled to make open shots and finish; an area Danko said they need to work on.
“We had good looks, we said we could have put the game way by 16, 18 (points) and they made their run,” Danko said. “But when we needed to make free throws and we needed to buckle down I think we had a little more intensity on that. And I think our basketball knowledge took over.”
Warde will host Central on Wednesday at 5:15 p.m