Faced with the daunting task of overcoming a 12-win team, the five-win Staples High School girls basketball team found itself deadlocked in a 23-23 tie late in the third quarter before visiting Stamford finished the game on an 18-5 run.
The Black Knights improved to 13-2 with a 41-28 triumph and the Wreckers fell to 5-9 on Tuesday night. Staples, coming off a win over New Canaan, was looking for consecutive victories for the first time this season, and coach Ed Huydic believed it could happen.
"I believed that we could compete with this team, and I believed we could win," said Huydic, noting that Stamford's style of play -- not an up-tempo, aggressive approach -- was a good matchup for his squad.
The Wreckers, behind 12 points from junior Abby Lustig, kept the game close in the second half. Staples fell behind early and trailed 10-5 after one quarter but stuck around, keeping the deficit to within five at halftime (18-13). The Wreckers clawed back to even the score and had some chances to finally take the lead, thanks to a few defensive stands in a row late in the third and early in the fourth quarter.
"I think we had four opportunities to take the lead and we just couldn't. That was kind of the turning point in the game," said junior Margaret Fair, who had five points. "We did hang with them, which is good to go home with."
The Wreckers knew, however, that they could have pulled off an upset and moved to within two wins of clinching a state tournament berth.
"We had an opportunity to take the lead and to actually, possibly push a lead out when the game was tied at 23," Huydic said. "But we didn't answer the bell and we did not take advantage of the looks we had."
The coach thought his team did a nice job on offense to set up good chances but just couldn't close the deal. Ultimately, he thought strong penetration and offensive rebounding by the Knights were the difference.
Stamford got 13 points from Anisa Fortt, 12 from Brianna Gordon and 11 from Tiana England.
Down 27-23 early in the fourth, the Wreckers had possession and a chance to cut into the deficit when Fair made a heads up play during a well-defended inbounds attempt. With all of her teammates guarded, she banked the ball off the back of Stamford player on the inbound and got control. That set up one of those good looks at the basket, but a 3-point try by Lustig was off the mark.
Stamford kept adding to the lead, and went up 34-23 on a hoop by England before the Wreckers ended the 11-0 run when Madeline Schemel scored on a finger roll.
That's as close as the Wreckers would get.
"The game was there to be seized. The moment was there to be had -- the upset was there to be sprung,' Huydic said.
The Wreckers had a win in their sights. Those stops to keep the score tied at 23 gave the team its chance.
"That was the moment of the game," Huydic said. "What transpired was us misfiring on great looks and, consequently, them going on an 18-5 run."