FAIRFIELD — Trumbull High girls basketball coach Steve Tobitsch knows the little things can add up to some big moments.
He has preached it to his players for as long as he’s been prowling the sidelines at Trumbull, and today one of his Eagles, junior Sarah Stolze, showed she is listening.
Stolze, who had been pulled earlier in the fourth quarter, blocked Fairfield Ludlowe’s attempt at a game-tying 3-point shot at the buzzer to help the Eagles secure a 55-52 road win
Both teams are now 1-1.
“We all just have a lot of heart and we really wanted to win, especially after the (season-opening) loss to Ridgefield,” Stolze said. “We were able to help each other out a lot on the defensive end and that just helped us win tonight. Defense wins championships.”
The block denied Ludlowe a chance to force overtime and ended the Falcons’ furious rally from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit.
The Eagles led 53-40 with three minutes to play before the Falcons stormed back to make it a one-possession game.
Twice Trumbull missed front ends of one-and-ones (the Eagles were 2 for 6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter), allowing Ludlowe back into the game.
With 23.1 seconds left, Cassi Barbato sank one of two foul shots to give Trumbull a 3-point lead at 55-52.
Over the next 21 seconds, though, Ludlowe couldn’t get a shot off so Falcons coach Sara Kinsley called a timeout with two seconds to play.
The Falcons got the ball to Juliet Bucher in the corner, but the Eagles had completed a perfect defensive switch on a screen, allowing Stolze to pop out from the low post and reject the Ludlowe guard as the buzzer sounded.
“We were switching,” Stolze said. “I was on the post and I switched out and found myself on the shooter.”
Julia Lindwall led a balanced Trumbull attack with 13 points, including four 3-point shots. Barbato added 12 and Emma Gentry chipped in with 11 more.
“I’m extra proud of the girls,” Tobitsch said. “They showed a tremendous amount of heart. We got pushed around on Wednesday (in the loss to Ridgefield) and in this day and age of social media, the girls heard a lot of stuff. We got bullied on our own court and we came down here and showed we are a good team.”
While the game had midseason energy, there was still plenty of early season sloppiness by both teams, which are still finding their way and wearing COVID-required masks.
The Eagles led by three at the end of the first and second quarters, but it was Ludlowe that came out strong to open the third.
A 7-0 Falcons spurt — courtesy of two Anna Paulmann foul shots, a Bucher 3-pointer and a back-door layup by Madison Roman — put Ludlowe ahead 32-28.
Trumbull closed out the third quarter on an 11-3 run to take a 39-35 lead into the final eight minutes.
A 14-5 surge to open the fourth quarter allowed Trumbull to get its lead as high as 53-40 before Ludlowe stormed back.
— John Nash (@NikonNash) February 12, 2021
“Our Ludlowe philosophy is it doesn’t matter how you start the game, it’s how you finish the game,” Kinsley said. “We made some good adjustments at halftime and mentally we were a different team in the second half. I’m proud of the girls for how they came back and how they fought.”
Roman paced the Ludlowe effort with 16 points while Kaleigh Sommers added 14. Bucher finished with 10, including a trio of 3-pointers.
Her final shot, however, was denied by one of those fundamentals that Tobitsch holds so dear — a simple defensive switch that led to a big block.
“It’s the little things,” Tobitsch said. “Ludlowe is a well-coached team and we’re playing on the road, wearing masks. I’ve been proud of a lot of teams but today’s effort really left me as proud of this team as any team I’ve coached.”
The Trumbull coach had plenty of pride left over for Stolze, as well, for putting her rough patch behind her to come up with the big block.
“Really proud of Sarah,” he said. “She kept her head up after having some rough moments in the fourth quarter, but we took her out and let her catch her breath. Sarah did a great job responding under the pressure.”
The Eagles are scheduled to travel to New Canaan on Tuesday (5 p.m. tip-off) while Ludlowe is slated to travel to Danbury for a 4:30 p.m. contest.