TRUMBULL — In the end, grizzled maturity won out over carefree youthfulness.
In tonight’s opening FCIAC girls basketball semifinal game, top-seeded Staples held off repeated comeback attempts by No. 5 Greenwich, eventually getting carried to the finish line by their veterans for a 65-59 win.
Ariana Gerig, whose status was uncertain until hours before the opening tip after injuring her knee in Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Ludlowe, scored 30 points. But Gerig fouled out with 1:14 left and Staples ahead, 57-53.
Senior Marisa Shorrock made five of six free throws down the stretch and Kathleen Cozzi added a pair with 18 seconds left to secure the win for the Wreckers (22-2).
“We weren’t sure if we were going to have Arianna so what’s a minute and 20 seconds?” Staples coach Paco Fabian said he told his players. “We thought we were going to play the whole game without her. Ari, there was no way she was going to stay off the floor. She wants this tournament more than anything.”
Gerig, who scored 11 of the Wreckers’ first 13 points, added six in the final quarter before departing.
“It’s all about confidence,” Gerig said. “We know we are the older team and we have so much experience and chemistry, we knew we could come out and get the win.”
Staples will take on seventh-seeded Ridgefield in Thursday’s final at Trumbull. The Tigers showed poise down the stretch to eliminate a higher seed for the second time in three days, defeating the host Eagles, 41-38.
The Cardinals (15-7), who were cast as the tournament darlings because of their young talent, which played a big role in a quarterfinal win over defending champion Norwalk, trailed by 42-30 after Gerig made a 3-point shot with 5:04 left in the third quarter.
Ava Sollene, who along with Mackenzie Nelson is one of the freshman who have fit in so well with the team’s seniors, made four 3-point shots in 4 1/2 minutes to bring Greenwich within 47-46 at the end of the third quarter.
“I was really concerned because Sollenne got so hot,” Fabian said. “We tried to close on her and she was hitting 3s everywhere. They were a really tough team to guard. We threw everything at them. We played man, we played zone and Greenwich was on fire and wouldn’t go away. That was one of the toughest games we’ve had all year.”
Nelson finished with 19 points for the Cardinals, but the Wreckers held her to just two in the final quarter.
“I was super proud of the effort that they gave,” Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez said. “Tonight we just fell short. They had a deeper bench than we did and they converted on their free throws, especially at the end of the game. It’s tough.”
The early part of the game was full of spurts. The Wreckers scored the first seven points, but Greenwich answered with a 10-0 run to take a four-point lead. Staples ended the quarter with eight points in a row for a 17-13 lead.
Led by six straight points from Marley Lopez-Paul (10 points), the Wreckers opened up their biggest lead, 33-19, before Greenwich scored six points in a row to close within 34-25 at halftime.
“Ava did an amazing job,” Hernandez said. “She took some really big shots in close moments, which I think helped to build her confidence. And Mac’s done what she’s done for us the entire year. At the end of the day they’re still freshmen and you’re going to see their youth exposed but they did the best they possibly could.”
Cozzi scored 9 points and Shorrock 8 for Staples.
Gerig wasn’t on the court at the end but she made her presence felt before departing, helping to provide a lead her teammates maintained.
“The thing with Ari is there are minutes in the game when you don’t have to coach,” Fabian said. “Because when she has the ball she just goes and when she goes you have to let her go. She scores for us when we’re struggling and she stops their momentum, which is huge.”
In the second game, featuring opponents that thrive off their defenses, Ridgefield proved the stingier team and played better down the stretch.
“We just had to play lockdown defense and we knew that our offense would come as long as we played good defense,” said Katie Flynn, who finished with 12 points. “We just play as best as we can every game. We play amazing defense and we’re not afraid of anyone. Anyone in the state.”
The Tigers (16-6), who took down a No. 7 seed for the second straight year with a quarterfinal win over Danbury, trailed midway through the third quarter against Trumbull, 26-20.
With Cali Stietzel (team-high 14 points) on the bench with her fourth foul, Ridgefield got within a point when Kate Wagner, the team’s other top scorer, joined Stietzel with her fourth foul.
By the time both players returned, with 3:39 remaining, that one-point deficit had turned into a 31-29 lead behind four straight points from Flynn, who has been slowed by injuries but looked like the player who was second team All-FCIAC a year ago.
Stietzel came in and promptly hit a 3-pointer for a five-point lead and Trumbull got no closer than three points the rest of the way. The defense, led by Megan Klosowski, held the Eagles to just one field goal over a nine-minute stretch.
“I’m really, really proud of this team. When I got back into coaching I didn’t know if I would so quickly fall in love with this again the way that I have,” said Ridgefield coach Rob Coloney, who moved out of the area for a year after coaching at Wilton and is in his first season with the Tigers. “It’s an infectious group. I think all year they feel that they’ve been overlooked and we kind of just told them let’s just work on getting better.”
Sarah Stolze scored 15 points and Cassi Barbato added 11 for the Eagles.