TRUMBULL — Cassi Barbato experienced the thrill of winning the FCIAC championship as a freshman on Trumbull’s girls basketball team in 2018. Now the senior is one victory away from ending her distinguished career with another conference title.
Barbato and the Eagles moved a giant step closer toward giving their school a fourth FCIAC girls basketball championship with another impressive postseason performance, this time in the semifinal round against Danbury.
With Barbato scoring 14 of her game-high 18 points during the second half and junior Emi Roberto netting 11 of her 16 points in the first half, third-seeded Trumbull registered a 57-45 victory tonight over seventh-seeded Danbury.
The Eagles (13-2) will play at top-seeded Ridgefield in Saturday’s final.
“It feels great, this is what we’ve been working toward all season, knowing we didn’t have states to go to,” said Barbato, referencing the fact that the state tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 shortened season. “So, this is all we’ve been looking forward to and it’s nice for the seniors to play the last game in a championship.”
Danbury longtime coach Jackie DiNardo missed tonight’s game. She is in quarantine after recently coming into contact with someone who tested positive for or was exposed to COVID-19. The Hatters were guided by their assistant coaches, with Melissa Teel leading the way.
Senior Julia Lindwall and junior Sarah Stolze added seven points apiece for the Eagles, who led 14-10 following the first quarter and 28-16 at halftime.
“Any one of these final four teams in the semifinals could easily win the FCIAC title,” said Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch, whose squad lost to Ridgefield in the 2020 FCIAC semifinals. “I’m very happy that we’re back in the game. Our senior class and our junior class deserve an opportunity to play in the championship game.”
The Hatters (10-5) were paced by senior center Tianna Rogers’ 15 points. Junior guard Chloe Perrault had 13 points, while junior forward Amar’Ryi Edwards contributed 12 points.
Danbury cut its deficit to 28-25 with a 9-0 run to start the second half.
“Our team executed parts of our game plan very well and they brought a lot of defensive intensity and I was really proud of their defensive effort,” Teel said. “We weren’t able to put four quarters of basketball together though, unfortunately. Trumbull did a really nice job on the boards, I think they outrebounded us and that hurt too.”
Roberto sparked the Eagles in the first half, then Barbato ignited the team offensively in the second. Swishing a pair of 3-pointers, Roberto helped put the home team ahead by four points after the first quarter. In the second quarter, her jumper from the left corner, layup off a pass from junior Emma Gentry and 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Trumbull a 26-16 advantage with 1:04 remaining before halftime.
“We definitely practiced the past two days to get going on offense and try our best to score,” Roberto said. “The middle was open, so we passed the ball to the middle and got a lot of shots.”
A forward, Roberto noted the team’s depth as being one of the aspects to the squad’s offensive success.
“We rely on a lot of people and it’s good to pass to each teammate and know they can do something good,” she said.
Tobitsch is accustomed to seeing Roberto rise to the occasion.
“Emi is an extremely talented basketball player,” Tobitsch said. “The things she does with the basketball for a girl her size and how skilled she is, is impressive. She passes the ball, her ball-handling skills are strong and that’s part of the reason why we are balanced as a team, the versatility Emi Roberto brings to the table.”
Consecutive layups from Edwards, a 3-pointer from junior guard Viviana Flores and another basket off the break from Edwards brought the Hatters to within 28-25 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
“We talked at halftime about effort, how we were missing open looks in the first half and we weren’t giving it to the post the way we talked about,” Teel said. “In the second half, we did a better job of getting the ball to the post and moving the ball around.”
Barbato took over in the second half, enabling the Eagles to pull away. After Lindwall made a 3-pointer, Barbato scored her team’s next 12 points, giving Trumbull a 43-30 edge early in the fourth quarter. Showing her shooting touch, Barbato made two 3-pointers, while Roberto converted a pair of shots from beyond the arc and Gentry and Stolze made one each.
“Cassi’s been our leader for years now and it meant a lot to her,” Tobitsch said. “More important to her offense tonight was her defense. She guarded their best player and her defensive intensity sparked us.”
Barbato’s defensive assignment was Danbury junior guard Kianna Perry.
“Defense was our main focus coming into the game and it’s really nice to see our practices translating to the game,” Barbato said. “We played good team defense, we had help everywhere.”
Up next for Trumbull is undefeated Ridgefield. The Tigers won the teams’ first meeting in the season-opening game.
“It would be nice to go out with a bang and finish what we started,” Barbato said.