Darien girls bumped from first round of FCIAC tournament by Danbury
Updated 11:58 pm, Wednesday, February 20, 2013
DANBURY -- Momentum was clearly not on the side of the Danbury girls basketball team heading into the FCIAC playoffs.
Three tough losses to fellow contenders in the space of nine nights was not what the Hatters were looking for prior to the postseason tipping off Saturday. But facing adversity right before facing a win-or-go-home scenario might ignite the Hatters toward a second straight conference crown.
Allie Smith scored 18 points as the Hatters advanced to the semifinals of the FCIAC tournament with a 50-42 win over Darien at Danbury High School, setting up a matchup with top-seeded Wilton on Tuesday at Fairfield Ludlowe for a spot in the championship game.
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Darien's Meg Marren led all scorers with 22 points, dominating inside and responding to every Danbury big play with one of her own.
"In the beginning we were a little (nervous) because it's do or die now," Danbury coach Jackie DiNardo said. "We were coming off of three tough losses to really good teams. (The girls) were a little concerned, but they knew they had to do it; this was a good test. We always say that failure breeds success, maybe the losing is what gave them the focus about what they have to do."
DiNardo must have read a crystal ball that foresaw just how important Smith's contribution would be, as Friday's practice was dedicated toward getting Smith and Kayla Handberry (11 points) more involved in the offense.
"In our last practice (DiNardo) would make us run if Allie passed it out; we did a lot of running to realize that she has to shoot it,' Rebecca Gartner said. "People think it's me and (twin sister) Rachel, but our whole team is a solid group and we know that, we believe in each other, we've been playing together and we have that confidence."
In a rematch of last season's FCIAC quarterfinals, Danbury seized the momentum late on in a game that saw neither team lead by more than five points until the final seconds. The Hatters stepped up their defensive intensity late, holding the Blue Wave to just two points over the final 4:54.
"We weren't hitting some shots and (Danbury) did," Darien coach Katie Lauten said. "I thought our defense stayed strong the whole time, it was just that we couldn't convert in the last couple of minutes. Our goal was to hold them to 50 and we did, we just had to put in a few more baskets."
Rebecca Gartner (11 points) hit a 3-pointer with 4:15 left to break a 40-40 deadlock and put the Hatters up for good. Rebecca and Rachel Gartner were held to just two points in the first half, but a halftime adjustment moving Rachel Gartner to shooting guard from the point allowed her and her sister to run through screens and get open shots at the basket. The duo combined for 17 in the second half.
"I definitely think it helped," Rebecca Gartner said. "It takes a lot of energy to play defense and play point guard. It's also a lot of pressure facing guarding you as a point guard, and Nahla Ward did a great job for us when she came in."
Marren's final basket with 1:05 left cut the deficit to 45-42, but the Hatters sunk more than enough free throws in the final minute to secure the victory.
"In this game, (Marren) was our offense in the second half," Lauten said. "Credit to Danbury and their defense big time. Meg did what she had to do inside, worked hard and got to the line. There really wasn't any more she could do for us."
Ryan Lacey is a correspondent
Danbury 50, Darien 42
DARIEN 13 9 15 5 -- 42
DANBURY 10 12 14 14 -- 50
DARIEN (15-6, 14-5 FCIAC):Kate Bushell 3 0-0 8; Meg Marren 6 10-15 22; Emily Stein 1 1-2 3; Kelly Karczewski 3 0-1 7; Kate Fiore 0 2-2 2; Totals: 13 12-18 42.
DANBURY (18-3, 16-3): Nahla Ward 1 0-0 2; Rachel Gartner 3 2-2 8; Allie Smith 9 0-3 18; Uniqua Tucker 0 0-0 0; Rebecca Gartner 3 2-2 11; Kayla Hanberry 4 3-4 11;. Totals: 20 7-11 50.
3-pointers: Dar -- Bushell 2, Karczewski; Dan -- Re. Gartner 3.