FAIRFIELD — So much for surprises.
An FCIAC Girls Basketball Tournament that offered the prospect of unpredictability has played out true to form. There have been six games and the higher seed has won five of them.
Danbury, the No. 1 seed, and No. 2 Wilton advanced to the finals with wins Tuesday night, though they didn’t come easy.
Stamford was poised for an upset against the Hatters, but missed too many easy shots and had too many turnovers, a bad combination against a seasoned champion. Danbury closed the game with an 8-1 run in the final three minutes for a 45-33 victory.
The Warriors saw a 14-point lead over Greenwich early at the start of the third quarter chopped to four points following a basket by the Cardinals on the opening possession of the final period.
Rather than fold, Wilton, which had lost in the semifinals the previous two seasons, erupted on a 13-0 run that set the tone for a 60-44 win.
Now we have the league’s two best regular-season teams playing in the final. There is no lack of storylines. Danbury is going for its third straight league title, which has been done only three times before, most recently by Trinity Catholic from 2006-08.
Wilton, in contrast, won its only FCIAC championship in 1989.
Danbury is riding a 20-game winning streak since its lone loss of the season — to Wilton.
“We’re really looking forward to playing Wilton again,” Danbury point guard Rachel Gartner said after her 20-point performance against Stamford. “We’re better now than when we started.”
Before a capsule preview, here are some semifinal observations.
— For the impartial fan, it was hard watching Stamford work so hard against Danbury and not reap the rewards of seeing their execution match their intensity. The Black Knights played championship-level defense but could not get their shots to fall.
— That being said, it was hard for the impartial fan not to respect what a proud champion Danbury is. The sense is that people want to see the Hatters fall for no other reason than everyone loves the Cinderella story.
“The Twins” — capitalization appropriate — Rachel and Rebecca Gartner, are just special talents. Without them, Stamford is playing in the final Thursday. Danbury coach Jackie DiNardo proclaimed them the two best guards in the state. It is hard to argue.
“It’s really sad that they are leaving,” DiNardo said.
— While this tournament has been relatively upset-free, DiNardo emphasized the strength of the league should not be forgotten. Remember, Trumbull, the No. 8 seed, was 3-4 against the field.
“I think this is the best we are ready for states than I’ve ever been,” DiNardo said.
— The most predictable and humorous moment: DiNardo anticipating a question about leaving Rachel Gartner in the game after she picked up her third foul with 3:37 left in the first half.
“I only play five players,” DiNardo said in a joking way, though her comment for the most part is also factual.
DiNardo is a polarizing personality for one reason: she speaks her mind, and people are not always comfortable with that. Her candor and refusal to sugarcoat is refreshing for writers.
Here is a fact: DiNardo is one of the FCIAC’s best coaches in any sport.
— It is still hard to figure out how Wilton’s Erin Cunningham, a deadly accurate outside shooter, gets lost in the crowd and so many open 3-point looks. She has scored 37 points in the Warriors’ two wins.
— Whenever Rebecca DeCarlo was not on the court for Greenwich, there were no seniors on the floor in the first semifinal. Was Wilton-Greenwich a preview of next year’s final?
— Make of this anything you want: as Fairfield Warde coach Dave Danko noted last night, when was the last time the semifinals featured four female coaches?
As for Thursday night…
No. 1 Danbury (21-1) vs. No. 2 Wilton (19-3), 7 p.m. Wilton has the confidence from beating Danbury earlier this season. And the Hatters have wanted the chance for a rematch for over two months.
It is hard to envision Cunningham getting as many open chances with the Gartner twins up top in the Hatters’ zone. The Warriors’ best chance may be getting the ball inside to center Erica Meyer.
Don’t underestimate how important this three-peat is to the Hatters. The three seniors don’t want their final FCIAC game to end in defeat. And how many people want to bet against the Gartners in a big spot?