WILTON — It was billed as Senior Night.
It was really Experience Night.
Wilton’s girls basketball team has it — in abundance — while Fairfield Warde is just gaining it, which is the best explanation for the Warriors’ resounding 72-50 win Wednesday night.
The teams entered with twin 16-1 marks in conference play. Wilton’s 19th straight win since an opening night loss to Fairfield Ludlowe — the Falcons will be getting served up in an opening-round rematch — clinched the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC Tournament.
It also made a statement, one the Wilton players made no attempt at hiding.
“I think we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Warde, and since it’s our senior night and one of our last games in the fieldhouse, we knew we had to come out and really show what we’ve got,” Erin Cunningham said.
Wilton struck early and never let up. After a quick deficit, the Mustangs (18-2) tied the game at 10-10 midway through the opening quarter on an inside basket by Iliana Krasniqi.
Haley English made a free throw and then a 3-point shot, igniting what would become a 28-8 run in just over eight minutes. The second half was garbage time.
“We definitely have a lot of experience,” said English, who was the point guard last year when the Warriors lost to Danbury in the league final. “They’re a young team. We executed well handling the pressure and rose to the occasion.”
One look at the scoreboard showed that Warde was unable to execute coach Dave Danko’s strategy for the night. His hope was to allow Wilton center Eric Meyer to get points inside as a tradeoff to shutting down English and Cunningham.
Meyer got into early foul trouble and while her usual factor on the defensive end, was limited to seven points.
English really set the tone, scoring 15 of her 16 points in the first half, 10 in the opening quarter.
“No, I don’t think that’s ever happened,” English said of her torrid shooting. “It felt nice. Once you feel it you keep looking for it.”
Cunningham, who joined Meyer on the bench in the second quarter when both picked up second fouls, scored 14 of her game-high 19 points in the second half.
“I think besides the experience it is very obvious the rapport they have,” Wilton coach Jaclyn Porco said. “Whey you have the talent and that rapport, good things happen.”
With Cunningham and Meyer on the bench, Wilton even extended its lead because of two key players who will be back next year, Karen Brosko (12 points) and Christina Holmgren, who came off the bench for 16 points.
“They gave us a great spark,” Porco said. “I give a lot of credit to Christina Holmgren. She plays behind Meyer and doesn’t know if she’s going to get eight to 12 minutes or zero. She showed what she can do tonight.”
Let’s not forget the Warriors’ Makenna Pearsall, whose all-around athleticism is carrying her next year to play lacrosse at Notre Dame. Her name often doesn’t show up in game stories because her major contributions are not noticeable in the box score, just the won-loss column.
This will be a good lesson for the Mustangs, who in contrast to Wilton have just one senior. They seem poised to be the next league power, but learned there is a huge gap to bridge in the next eight days.
This has been a terrific year for girls basketball in the FCIAC, with more good teams than at any time in recent memory.
But right now the Warriors have earned that perch atop the standings and it may take a Herculean effort to knock them off.
“A big game, our senior night, going to determine the No. 1 seed, we had to come out firing and I think we did that,” Cunningham said.
Porco said she likes the way her team is positioned for phase two: a run at just its second-ever league title.
“They’re competitive girls and they’re having a lot of fun and want to make sure they are setting the tone for what we are calling the second half of our season,” Porco said.