WESTPORT — Addressing his team during yesterday’s practice, Staples girls basketball coach Paco Fabian described today’s game against Trumbull as “another test.”
“The girls laughed at me and said you keep saying that, but that’s the exact word I used,” Fabian said.
Preparing for each game like it is a test, the Wreckers have displayed a high level of intensity in every matchup and today Fabian’s squad passed its latest, or with the midway point of the season approaching, its midterm exam.
Senior forward Alva Nordin scored a game-high 16 points, while senior forward Marley Lopez-Paul tallied nine points for Staples, which used a strong defensive effort to turn back a tough, talented Trumbull team, 44-38.
With the triumph, the host Wreckers ran their record to a perfect 6-0. Their last two matchups featured their toughest tests. Staples entered today off a 61-57 overtime victory against Fairfield Ludlowe.
“The energy we bring to the court is fantastic,” said Nordin, who scored 12 second-half points. “We never give up, we were so underestimated before the season and I think that we finally proved to ourselves that we’re the same team we were last year.”
Staples held a 19-16 halftime lead and a 34-33 advantage after three quarters. The Eagles (3-2), who entered the game winners of three straight, trailed only 41-38 after senior forward Cassi Barbato converted two foul shots with 1:49 remaining in the fourth quarter. Following Barbato’s free throws, the Wreckers effectively took time off the clock by passing the ball around the perimeter, forcing the Eagles to commit fouls. Lopez-Paul sank two significant foul shots and senior Lexie Moskovit (six points) made one in the final minute to seal the win. Barbato scored a team-high 15 points, including two 3-pointers to pace Trumbull.
“It was a great FCIAC game, give a lot of credit to Staples, they came out ready to go,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “They had a lot more intensity and energy than we had to start. We were chasing points from the beginning, but we kept battling and we kept coming back.”
Points were hard to come by in the fourth quarter, as Trumbull was limited to five points and Staples scored 10, including three free throws during the final seconds. Nordin swished a jump shot from just below the key, then buried a foul line jumper, giving Staples a 38-33 edge with 6:15 left.
After Lopez-Paul converted a free throw, junior Emi Roberto hit a 3-pointer from the right side, bringing Trumbull to within 39-36 with 5:27 to go. But the Eagles managed to score just two points the rest of the way.
“The defense was about talking and hyping each other up,” Lopez-Paul said. “We counted on our girls to do everything that they needed to do in their positions. We went to a zone a little bit and and went into a man, whatever defense we played, we knew we all had each other’s back.”
Roberto totaled 13 points with three 3-pointers and junior Sarah Stolze added eight points for Trumbull, which also played mostly man-to-man defense.
“The fourth quarter, I think we forced a few shots, we weren’t patient enough,” Tobitsch said. “Emi had some big shots at the end and Cassi is our go-to player and leader. I like our team, we are a talented group, but we have to come out ready to play each and every night.”
The third quarter featured both the Wreckers’ and Eagles’ finest showing offensively. Staples opened a 28-20 lead after Nordin made a baseline jumper and a 3-pointer, but the Eagles drew to within a point by the end of the quarter, thanks to timely baskets by Barbato and Stolze. Both teams exhibited impressive ball movement, while working their motion offenses during the quarter.
“One of the nice things about this team is we have a lot of shooters,” Fabian said. “We have a lot of girls who can score and we have forwards that can handle the ball and score. When you have a mixture of an inside/outside game, you are a dangerous team to match up with.”
Added Nordin: “We practice moving the ball around so much. This year everyone is touching the ball and we have good ball movement, which is key.”
Five consecutive points by junior Sydelle Bernstein off two free throws and a 3-pointer gave the Wreckers a 13-8 lead late in the first quarter. Barbato cut the deficit to 17-16 by swishing a 3-pointer, before Nicole Holmes converted a layup off Lopez-Paul pass at the 1:10 mark of the second quarter.
“Hopefully, we can learn from this game and get out to a faster start than we did tonight in our next game,” Tobitsch said. “We shared the ball nicely in the third quarter, but we also gave up too many points in that quarter. Staples is a very strong team and they were matching us point-for-point.”
Slowing down Trumbull’s vaunted long range shooting also helped Staples ace its latest test.
“We have really been practicing to play Trumbull, we circle them on our list every year, because Trumbull is a very good team,” Lopez-Paul said. “Their 3-point shooting was one of the things we were practicing against, so we made sure we really got out on them.”