Girls basketball: Warde holds off Ridgefield Tigers

Fairfield Warde’s Lejla Markovic scored 16 points, Olivia Parisi converted a much-needed free throw, and coach Dave Danko’s top-seeded Mustangs held off fifth-seeded Ridgefield High, 51-49, in the FCIAC girls basketball semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe on Wednesday.

“It feels great, we were very upset last year,” said Markovic, Warde’s senior point guard. “It is great to accomplish our goal. (On that last shot) I tried to stay on my man and help on anyone going to the basket ,when I saw the shot go up I just prayed it wouldn’t go in.”

Asked for and answered,. Elizabeth’s Middlebrook’s five-footer caught iron three times, but didn’t find net, as the buzzer sounded.

Danko said, “Lejla had to witness the game (a semifinal loss to Greenwich) last year because she popped her shoulder in the St. Joe game. So she wasn’t involved in the semifinal game…She is a wounded warrior right there and all the credit goes to her.”

Warde took a 28-18 lead into the locker room on the strength of some outstanding defense and some missed shots inside by the Tigers.

“Against Greenwich (in a quarterfinal win) they were able to leak out in transition and finish,” Danko said. “We cut down their transition until the end fourth quarter, where they got to get out and go like they did against Greenwich. (I’m sure ) Their coach said we make a layup here, foul shot there, we’re going to the championship.

“Last year…. it didn’t go our way….Here we build the lead, we had the lead throughout, and never really relinquished it. It’s good to be in the championship game we fought hard.”

Shania Osborne finished with 13 points, seven in the first half. She had five points to help Warde to a 16-14 lead.

Iliana Krasniqi had six of her 12 points in the opening stanza. She had two big buckets in the final frame, after Ridgefield had closed within 43-41.

In the 12-4 second quarter for Warde, Markovic had two hoops, including a nifty hesitation drive, and had a fine backdoor cut pass to Daja Polk.

Up 40-32 heading into the final period, Warde had to fend off a red hot Meaghan O’Hara, who scored seven straight Tiger points, including a key 3-pointer.

Markovic knocked down a tough 3-pointer to take the lead to six. She scored again on a drive with under two minutes remaining.

The Tigers’ Grace Goodwin’s three-point play made it a one-point game at the 1:02 mark, before Parisi hit the second of two free throws (the Mustangs were in the bonus) and it was 51-49 with 22 seconds remaining.

Coming out of a timeout with 14.9 left, the Tigers got the ball inside but the shot wouldn’t drop to force overtime.

“We got the three state home games, where we had to go to NFA (last year), we don’t leave Fairfield for a while,” Danko said.

“We’re the number one seed on Friday night. We’re playing a team (Stamford) that beat us in their gym. Stamford they deserved it they beat us. Good players rise, stars rise, secondary players come up. We’re ready for the challenge and I’m sure Stamford is too.”

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