NORWALK — When Shania Osborne suffered a torn ACL at the start of the season, the Fairfield Warde girls basketball team’s twin title hopes seemed as frail as its rugged center.
Osborne returned a month ago, restricted in her range but unable to do any more damage. Osborne’s bursts have been limited to stretches, and perhaps the biggest one came this afternoon at the most pivotal time.
Osborne scored 8 of her 12 points in the final quarter, and had several important offensive rebounds in the closing seconds to lead the fifth-seeded Mustangs to a 47-46 win over No. 4 Norwalk in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC Tournament.
“I’m happy for Nia grabbing those rebounds, I’m happy for the seniors getting to Ludlowe,” said Warde coach Dave Danko, referring to the site of Tuesday’s semifinals. “We’re still playing for something.”
Warde will face No. 1 Trumbull in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. The Eagles advanced today with a 54-37 win over Staples in today’s second game.
The Mustangs’ win was not secured until a potential game-winning 3-point shot by the Bears’ Ashley Wilson from 25 feet bounded off the front of the rim.
Daja Polk scored 15 points to pace Warde (15-6).
“Daja makes those two free throws and then we went cold from the line,” Danko said. “(Wilson) had a good look at the end there.”
Warde took a 39-34 lead on Polk’s jump shot with 5:27 left, but Norwalk quickly tied the game on a 3-point play and then two free throws by Sarah St. Surin, who scored a team-high 13 points.
Wilson’s 3-point shot completed an 8-0 run that put the Bears ahead, 42-39.
Osborne took over; she finished off a pass from Polk for a 47-44 lead with 1:19 left. St. Surin answered with a jump shot. From there, Warde missed three straight foul shots but Norwalk (16-5) could not knock down a shot.
“We’re an experienced team; we’ve been here before,” Polk said. “There were a lot of missed free throws and a lot of offensive rebounds we got. It took a lot of fight out of us. It took maturity. It took a strong mentality to win that game.”
Iliana Krasniqi added 10 points for Warde.
Norwalk got 10 points from both Asiah Knight and Amanda Beckwith, who provided a big lift off the bench in the second quarter, when she scored 8 of her points after Warde had taken a 19-11 lead.
The story of the Eagles’ season was on display following the opening tap against Staples. The Wreckers won it but needed over a minute before they were able to free themselves from defensive pressure to even attempt a shot.
Trumbull (20-1) used a 12-point run after falling behind 4-0 and was never threatened the rest of the way.
“From the beginning of the season to right now there is one steady component we talk about and we start with halfcourt man defense,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “People think of us as a pressing team, we do at times, but it starts halfcourt. The first minute of the game we wanted to establish our presence. It wasn’t pretty at times, basically a road game — Staples is down the road — and I think our girls responded well.”
The Eagles won the regular-season title but were unable to enjoy the advantage of playing at home because their gym was booked for a state wrestling tournament. The FCIAC decided to give the fourth seed the chance to host so potential semifinal opponents could be at the same location.
Claudia Tucci, a Player of the Year candidate, scored 21 points to lead the Eagles.
“I think we played really great defense,” Tucci said. “We trapped all their point guards, we had a lot of fast breaks. We rotate very well, two people are trapping down low. Everyone plays a major role. On offense we rotate the ball really well, a lot of pick and rolls, and we get open looks.”
Taylor Brown added 12 points for Trumbull.
Elle Fair finished with 14 points for Staples (12-8), the No. 8 seed, which qualified for the tournament for the first time in seven years.
Warde handed Trumbull its only loss, by one point, eight days ago.
“We match up favorably with Trumbull,” Danko said. “Lets see what happens. It’s a good semifinal matchup for all of us.”
Added Tobitsch, “Any one of these teams left Tuesday night can win. It is going to be tough. We just hope we are playing on Thursday.”