By Dave Ruden
With a heavily back-ended schedule, until this week it was difficult to get an accurate gauge on Stamford High School’s girls basketball team.
The Black Knights were 10-2, but lacking a signature win. In their two toughest games, they lost to Danbury and underachieving but talented Ridgefield.
“We got down with those two losses,” Stamford center Kelsey Santagata admitted.
In the course of 24 hours this week, the Black Knights trumpeted a loud message to the rest of the league: Don’t sleep on us.
It started with Monday’s 55-50 win over unbeaten Wilton, followed by a gritty 37-28 win against Fairfield Warde, which had just three losses at the time.
“Those were huge for us,” Santagata said. “We took a big step in the right direction. We really wanted those wins. I think we came out stronger because of the losses. It helped us.”
There have been several reasons for Stamford’s strong play, starting with sophomore Tiana England, the sophomore guard who has emerged as one of the FCIAC’s best players. She finished with 19 points against Wilton and 17 against Warde. She also played all 64 minutes in the two games.
“She’s definitely stepped it up big time,” said Diane Burns, the Black Knights’ first-year coach. “She’s great at scoring, but she likes to pass first. She likes to attack the basket, has good ballhandling skills and is a good defender.”
Then there is Santagata, who missed the first month of the season after spraining her ankle on opening night. Her value was evident against the Mustangs, when she scored just 2 points, but finished with 11 rebounds, 6 blocks, 6 steals and 5 assists.
“It was a rough start sitting out for a couple of weeks,” she said. “I had to sit out and then got off to a slow start.”
Anisa Fortt has been another reliable scorer, while Briana Gordon is relentless on the boards. Maxine Fodiman and Camry Evans have also made solid contributions.
“I think the best thing about this team is we are balanced,” Santagata said.
If there has been a constant for Stamford it has been on the defensive end. It has allowed 40 or fewer points 10 times.
“We constantly preach defense this season,” Santagata said. “It has stepped up and been a huge part of our wins. And our defense creates our offense.”
The Black Knights held Danbury to just 40 points. Unfortunately they were limited to 27.
“That loss was frustrating because we played great defense and if you hold a team like that to 40 points you think you can win,” Burns said. “We were 1 for 15 from the 3-point line and we had some wide open looks.”
It appears that the Black Knights’ schedule was made out by a sadist. They are in a stretch of playing the seven other teams that would currently qualify for the conference playoffs in a nine-game stretch.
“The wins this week were really good for the girls,” Burns said. “I’m proud of them, how tough they are playing and winning two tough games on the road back to back. “Those are huge confidence boosters for the girls.”
No. 1 Danbury (11-1) vs. No. 8 Greenwich (9-3). In a year when there are more teams capable of winning the conference title than at any time at recent memory, we give the nod for top seed to the team that knows how to win in the playoffs.
No. 2 Wilton (12-1) vs. No. 7 Trumbull (9-4). How will the Warriors bounce back from their first loss? The Eagles are going to be a lower seed that everyone wants to avoid.
No. 3 Stamford (11-2) vs. No. 6 Westhill (10-3). The city of Stamford would love this as a first-round matchup.
No. 4 Fairfield Ludlowe (11-1) vs. Fairfield Warde (10-3). The town of Fairfield would love this as a first-round matchup. Are the Falcons for real? Their final six games: Greenwich, Stamford, Warde, Westhill, Wilton and Danbury.