WESTPORT — Grace Lesko is reputed as one of the many distinguished defensive stoppers on the Trumbull girls basketball team.
Lesko also has a pretty good jump shot, which she rarely shows off in deference to the Eagles’ better-known scorers. But with the absence of Emma Gentry, who has been out following an appendectomy, and Stamford focusing on her teammates, Lesko today took advantage of her open looks.
Lesko scored seven of her 15 points in the opening quarter and hit a key 3-point shot in the fourth to help the third-seeded Eagles to a 50-38 win over the Black Knights in the opening quarterfinal round game of the FCIAC Tournament at Staples.
The third-seeded Eagles improved to 17-4. They will meet No. 7 Ridgefield in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Tigers, which upset Trumbull last year as the seventh seed in the first round, eliminated No. 2 Danbury, 41-29, in this afternoon’s second game.
Lesko scored off the opening tap and then followed with a 3-point shot for a quick 5-0 lead.
“After the layup I kind of got a boost of confidence and it was like ‘OK, I’m ready,’ ” Lesko said. “I was really focused on my shot. I think we were just fired up and the energy was good. We were prepared for the game. Emma is out and she’s a good shooter so I just tried to fill her role.”
Emi Roberto added 15 points for Trumbull, including several inside baskets off entry passes from Cassi Barbato, who scored 9 points and had a number of assists.
Lesko’s sister, Meg, was a four-year player for the team, graduating a year ago.
“Grace is a terrific jump shooter,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “People underestimate those Leskos. They are great defensive players and they are great soccer players. Terrific athletes. We have good athletes playing basketball, but (Grace) can knock down shots and she proved it tonight.”
The third-seeded Eagles’ trademark is stifling multiple defenses, and they held the sixth-seeded Black Knights to just 14 points in the first half. With Jessica Nelson sidelined with a broken hand, the emphasis was to shut down Megan Landsiedel, and they did for a half. Landsiedel scored 11 of her 14 points in the second half.
“We told our girls you have to be ready to compete, and they did,” Tobitsch said. “I thought we came out and competed, we understood the scouting report and we have real great leadership. For a team that’s so young, I’m really impressed how together they are.
“Stamford is a tough team. We know they’re not 100 percent but we’re not 100 percent. At this point in the season it’s a war of attrition. We’re banged up just like a lot of teams are.”
Lesko gave the Black Knights an early lead they maintained throughout the game.
“Whatever the defense gave us, and the defense was giving her open looks and our girls have confidence kicking to her, and she was ready to step in and knock down that 15-foot jump shot,” Tobitsch said.
Though shorthanded, the sixth-seeded Black Knights (15-6) would not go away. They got within 33-26 early in the fourth quarter. But Lesko hit an open 3 and Roberto scored six straight points, including two baskets on passes from Barbato.
“I think a lot of teams know Cassi and Emi are our strongest shooters so other teams try to close them off and that made me more open,” Lesko said.
Barbato, who guarded Landsiedel for much of the game, showed her diversified skills.
“That’s what I mean by leadership,” Tobitsch said. “Cassi’s a junior captain for us, first team all-conference player, but it’s not about her stats. She could have easily taken more shots but she didn’t. She kicked it, made the extra pass and that’s why we were able to put up the points we did tonight. Teams key on her and we have a lot of girls who can step up.”
Defense was also the difference in Ridgefield’s win. The Hatters, who had been held below 40 points just once, scored a season-low. After rallying from down 12 to get within 34-29 with 4:30 left, they were shutout the rest of the way.
“We just at the end of the day want it so bad,” said Cali Stietzel, who scored 10 of her team-high 15 points in the second half to get the Tigers (15-6) off to a strong start. “We are able to work around the ball and not be selfish. Other people get opportunities. At the end of the day we’re able to put the ball in the basket more than the other team. Our defense was a crucial part. Keeping a team like that under 30 is an accomplishment in itself.”
Kate Wagner added 13 points and Katie Flynn finished with 7 for the Tigers.
Kianna Perry led Danbury (16-5), which came in on a six-game winning streak, with 11 points. Tianna Rogers added 7. The Hatters had a big size advantage but had trouble converting putback chances.
“We’re polar opposites, Danbury and us,” Ridgefield coach Rob Coloney said. “Part of my plan was on offense, we’ve got to stay away from those bigs the best we can. We obviously had to hit some shots. Danbury’s a tremendous team. They kept me up the last few nights thinking about them. “What I’m most proud of is that they went on a run, we took the hit and we gave a few back. That’s the sign of a mature team.”