A win over perennial powerhouse Warde surely would have made Danielle Morgan's holiday season, but Tuesday night the Greenwich High School girls basketball team gave its second-year head coach the next best thing.
A performance to be proud of.
The Cardinals, who were practically run out of the gym in last year's loss to the Mustangs, gave the defending FCIAC champions all they could handle on this night. Greenwich, which trailed by as many as 10 points during the fourth quarter, fought its way back behind senior co-captain Erin Laney, whose desperation shot at the buzzer from just beyond halfcourt came up short as Warde held on for a dramatic 39-37 victory.
It was quite a contrast from the Mustangs' 43-point domination last December.
"The girls played their hearts out," Morgan said. "I can't even remember what the score was last year (69-26), but I do know we've come a long way since then. The effort has been incredible, and I think tonight we really took a step forward. I mean last year we couldn't even get the ball over halfcourt against their press and tonight we were able to control the pace of the game."
Warde (3-2) took its largest lead of the game, 34-24, early in the fourth quarter on Carly Mappa's second 3-pointer of the contest, but Greenwich (1-4) got treys by sophomore Angie Jaramillo and Laney to make it 36-31 with 1:36 remaining.
The Mustangs had a chance to ice it with 13 seconds left, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Jaramillo took advantage and drove in for a layup before Warde called a pair of timeouts to set up the inbounds play with two seconds on the clock. Instead of taking a chance near its own basket, head coach Dave Danko had Kate Kerrigan throw the ball to the halfcourt stripe.
Laney, who finished with a game-high 13 points, intercepted the pass as both benches held their collective breaths.
"They're a tough team with a good inside game," Danko said. "We lost all five starters and our top bench player from last year, so for us to come down and pick up a hard-fought road win is good experience for the girls."
"Both teams missed their fair share of shots, but our composure was good," Danko said.
"In my 15 years here our goal has always been to make the FCIAC and state tournaments. That's our goal again this season, and it should be a fight for the eight FCIAC spots."
Junior Tori Dobson had eight points and was a force on the boards with eight rebounds.
Although the effort was there, the Cardinals couldn't help but wonder about some of the easy missed shots that proved to be the difference.
At least they know what type of drills are awaiting them in practice.
"Layups, layups, layups," Morgan said with a smile. "We had some silly turnovers and that hurt us. But hey, its four down and 16 games to go.
"We need seven more wins to make states, which is the goal, and I like how we're coming along heading into the (LaVista Tournament) on Monday."