FAIRFIELD — A guard-heavy team, Fairfield Warde relied on forward/center Robert Bettes a lot on both ends of the court during today’s FCIAC Tournament quarterfinal against Greenwich, and the senior rose to the important occasion.
Providing scoring, solid defensive play and timely rebounds, Bettes helped the Mustangs advance to what is becoming a familiar destination for them — the FCIAC semifinals.
Bettes scored a team-high 14 points to lead 10th-seeded Warde to a thrilling 46-42 overtime win over No. 15 Greenwich.
The Mustangs (6-6) will visit sixth-seeded Westhill in the semifinals Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“It feels great, we were doubted a lot at the beginning of the year because we lost a few key players,” Bettes said. “We had some rough losses at the beginning of the year, but we got it together the second half of the year and it feels great to be going to the semifinals.”
Warde, which did not play Greenwich during the regular season, trailed 11-9 after the first quarter, led 21-19 at halftime and held a 32-29 advantage heading into the final quarter. The matchup was close throughout, with the lead changing hands numerous times.
The Cardinals finished their season with a record of 4-9, but as they proved, that mark is deceiving. Greenwich lost three games that were decided in overtime and two other matchups by one point.
“We were supposed to play Greenwich last Saturday, but we never got a chance to play them and I scouted them before, so I knew they were a dangerous team coming into the playoffs,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “You could see that they were starting to get into a flow at the end of the year.
Junior guard Demian Vial scored 10 points, while senior forward Evan Defonce added six points, including two 3-pointers for the Mustangs, who like the Cardinals played tough man-to-man defense throughout.
“It was a great feeling to compete in a game like that,” Defonce said. “Playing a playoff game at home is always exciting and then going to overtime adds another level of excitement. We brought that energy the whole 36 minutes.”
The Cardinals were paced by a 17-point performance from James Pilc, who sent the game into overtime by making a turnaround jump shot with 3.2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Dan Arnold had nine points for Greenwich, which had almost as many games as it had practices. The team was in quarantine for a two-week period during the regular season due to Covid-19 precautions.
“We’ve had 14 practices this year because of the Covid situation and sometimes it shows,” Greenwich coach Todd Trimmer said. “We have a real tough time finishing games, baskets, knocking down free throws. We have struggled on the offensive side of the ball, but we got good looks. We needed more gym time, but this team gave us their heart and soul every single night and defensively we stopped everybody. We only gave up 46 points in an overtime game today, which was another great effort by our team.”
Added Greenwich guard A.J. Barber: “It was definitely an interesting season, we had a span of about 10 days with eight games and we didn’t have many practices. But it was definitely a memorable season and I’m grateful to be a member of this team.”
With the score tied at 42-42 after four quarters of action, Bettes gave Warde the lead for good when he banked in a runner in the lane with 2:55 to go. Greenwich was held scoreless in overtime and after Bettes’ basket, the Mustangs successfully took time off the clock by moving the ball around the perimeter.
“Rob throughout the whole game, he took it upon himself to take control and do what he needed to do both offensively and defensively,” Swaller said.
The Cards faced a 34-29 deficit following a putback by Warde’s Jack Plesser early in the fourth quarter, but Greenwich went on an 8-0 run to seize a four-point lead.
Dean Brown made a layup, Arnold drove to the basket in traffic and scored and Pilc swished a 3-pointer, after making a pair of free throws, putting Greenwich ahead 38-34 with 3:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Consecutive baskets off steals by Warde’s Jon Gladstone knotted the score at 38-38 with just over two minutes remaining in the final quarter. Chason Barber scored in the low post for Greenwich, making it 40-38, but Vial tied it up for Warde, turning a steal off an inbounds pass into a basket. He also put the Mustangs ahead, converting a layup with 14.8 seconds left in regulation.
Greenwich forced overtime though, courtesy of Pilc, who calmly buried a baseline turnaround jumper while being tightly guarded.
“I felt that shot was going to give us some momentum,” Pilc said. “A lot of our guys played a lot of minutes, so we were a little tired at the end. There were some long possessions that wore us down.”
The Cardinals, who knocked off second-seeded St. Joseph in the tournament’s round of 16, were playing their best in the postseason.
“That definitely helped knowing that we can win and will next year, it definitely gave us confidence,” Pilc said. “The turnovers hurt us tonight, especially in the first half. We definitely could have held down the turnovers.”
Bettes made two timely 3-pointers and grabbed a significant offensive rebound in overtime with the Mustangs ahead, 44-42.
“Robert Bettes has stepped up at center this year, I can’t describe how much of a role he’s played on this team,” Warde’s Austin Curran said. “He rebounds, he’s scoring now and he really opens it up for the guards on the offensive side. He is a good rebounder too.”