Second-Chance Points: Stamford And Greenwich Hope To Provide Girls Basketball Semifinal Surprises

Greenwich center Abbie Wolf will be a key in Tuesday's semifinal game against Wilton. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Greenwich center Abbie Wolf will be a key in Tuesday’s semifinal game against Wilton. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

STAMFORD — The parity that has been the major theme of the FCIAC girls basketball season got bounced like an overinflated ball on Saturday.

Four games were decided by an average of 16 points, with just one, Greenwich’s 55-51 win over Westhill, decided by fewer than 19 points. The Cardinals were also the only lower seed to advance as form held.

Will the rich get richer again in Tuesday night’s semifinals, as Wilton takes on Greenwich in the opener, followed by Stamford trying to take down two-time defending champion Danbury?

The aura of unpredictably that greeted Saturday still hangs in the air, but is it a mirage?

Before breaking down the two games, the quarterfinals were my first extended chance to see most of the teams. Here are some impressions I carried out of the Westhill gym:

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— Stamford point guard Tiana England is jaw-dropping good, more than living up to the hype. There certainly is not a more dynamic player in the league, and a case can be made there is not a more talented one either.

England beat the double teams Warde coach Dave Danko threw her way. Repeatedly, as his team tried to rally from a sizable deficit, Danko could be heard shouting to his players, “Double everyone but her.” There was no question who “her” was.

England has tremendous court vision and is a pass-first playmaker who can also score.

— It has been a long time since Greenwich was a serious player in the sport. Its last title came in 1988, the end of a run of three in four years. Records are incomplete, but it is believed the Cardinals last won a league playoff game in 1992.

Coach Chrys Hernandez has done a terrific job with the program. In her second season, she got the team last winter back to the state playoffs. This year the Cardinals have taken the next step.

It doesn’t hurt that Hernandez has talent to work with, young talent at that. Rebecca DeCarlo is the senior who sees the most playing time. The nucleus is comprised of juniors and sophomores.

There are no stars — yet — but Hernandez has her team playing well together. Ball movement is rapid. Finding open players is a constant. The defense is tough.

No matter the outcome Tuesday night, in a year of masterful coaching, Hernandez has done the best job.


— The best reaction on Saturday came from Danbury point guard Rachel Gartner, when asked about all the talk about balance in the league.

Gartner and the Hatters don’t want to hear it. They are the two-time defending champions and riding a 20-game winning streak since a loss to Wilton in the second game of the season.

The Hatters have been reduced to a secondary storyline, and suffice it to say they aren’t happy about it.

One thing is certain: no opponent is going to sneak past a complacent defending champion this week. Danbury is highly motivated for a three-peat.

— A rough day in Stamford for Fairfield’s two schools, which were coming off of impressive seasons. Warde lost by 21 and Ludlowe by 19.

Expect each to rebound in the state playoffs.

— Speaking of Fairfield, Wilton was coming off losses to both schools before ending the season with a win over Bassick. The previous game against a playoff team was a loss to Stamford.

The Warriors’ last quality win? On Jan. 24, against Greenwich.

After a great regular season, it would have been a huge disappointment for Wilton to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, it jumped on Ludlowe right from the outset and never let up.

Reinforced in the game: on a very skilled team, Erin Cunningham is a catalyst. When she is hitting from the outside, as she did against the Falcons, the entire court opens up.

— Layups, layups, layups. There were too many missed shots within three feet of the basket over nine hours. Tuesday’s games may be decided in part by which teams make their easy shots and free throws.

As for Tuesday’s games, here we go:

No. 2 Wilton (18-3) vs. No. 6 Greenwich (16-5), 6 p.m. A chance for the Cardinals to avenge one of their defeats. Two teams very similar, with good point guard play, outside shooters and strong centers. The battle in the paint between Wilton’s Erica Meyer and Greenwich’s Abbie Wolf is one to keep an eye on. It is trite, but this game will come down to the basics, which team will be best handling the ball and maximizing possessions, and which gets the most reliable perimeter shooting.

No. 1 Danbury (21-1) vs. No. 4 Stamford (17-4), 7:45 p.m. The Black Knights lost a defensive struggle in the first meeting, 40-27. Everyone talks about Danbury coach Jackie DiNardo only using five players, but they are five good ones, led by the Gartner twins, Rachel and Rebecca. Can the Hatters effectively shut down England, which slows the entire Stamford defense? Kelsey Santagata is known for being one of the league’s best inside players, but she is also very adept helping to break pressure and bringing the ball up court. Stamford can’t afford to miss as many easy shots as it did Saturday, but it must also create them. The longer the Black Knights can keep the game close, the better their chances.