FAIRFIELD — When the offense is working to perfection, players move across the board like gliding chess pieces. The ball is possessed for seconds before being passed off. Uncontested shots may end up being assists instead of points when a teammate has a better opportunity.
Call it basketball geometry, and few can perfect it better than Trumbull’s girls basketball team.
The Eagles are noted for their defense, which causes their work at the other end of the court to often go overlooked. Not tonight, on the stage of the FCIAC championship. In a flawless first quarter, Trumbull jumped out to a 20-4 lead against Wilton, was ahead by 22 points at halftime and 28 points early in the third quarter.
It was a needed cushion as the Warriors mounted a furious late rally, but that hard work got them no closer than eight points.
The Eagles’ 60-49 win gave them back to back championships and three total under coach Steve Tobitsch.
The sense of satisfaction was palpable.
“This one is a little special because we lost so much a year ago and we told the girls we want them to create their own memories,” Tobitsch said.
Most of the key contributors this season were role players when the Eagles advanced to the Class LL final. Two, freshmen Allie Palmieri and Cassi Barbato, were not even with the team.
The faces change but, because of the system, the results remain consistent.
“It feels amazing,” said Brady Lynch, a senior starter who came off the bench last season. “Even though we did it last year it still feels like it’s the first time. We knew Wilton is a great team and despite our lead at halftime they were going to come back, but we just had to keep our head and use our experience and finish out the game.”
After Caroline Sweeny opened the game with a basket for Wilton, the top-seeded Eagles (22-1) scored 18 unanswered points, making six of nine shots in the spurt, including three 3-pointers.
“That was just something out of, I don’t even know what,” Lynch said. “It was like a storybook. We made almost every 3 we took. It was insane.”
Added Tobitsch, “We told the girls they had to be aggressive and look for the shot when they were open, and they took that to the extreme tonight.”
The box score tonight was informative to the selflessness of the Trumbull players. Julie Keckler, who was selected as the game’s most valuable player, finished with 14 points. Barbato, Palmieri and Krystina Schueler added 8 apiece. Nine different players scored.
Lynch, who had a great tournament, scored just 6 points, but impacted the outcome with her defense and rebounding. Everyone contributes in tangible and intangible ways.
“We play a solid eight the whole game so no matter which of the eight is the high scorer it doesn’t matter, as long as we come out with a win,” Lynch said.
So how come the Eagles’ work defending their basket gets less attention than the way they attack an opponent’s, and why is the offense so high-functioning?
“We practice at a really fast pace so that when it gets to game time we know exactly what to do,” Lynch said. “Especially against Wilton because they play a zone, so quick ball movement. That’s why we got so many open looks tonight.”
Given the size of the deficit they had to overcome, the second-seeded Warriors (18-5) did themselves proud, especially in the final quarter. They used a 16-3 run to get within 55-47 with just under two minutes left on a 3-point shot by Gulbin.
Then, in the game’s biggest play, Palmieri, with the mettle of an upperclassmen, got past Zoe Rappaport for a layup and was fouled. The 3-point play settled the Eagles the rest of the way.
“We got great looks and smart shots from kids who can shoot the ball, and they were halfway down and out and then it leads to a long rebound,” Wilton coach Rob Coloney said. “Trumbull comes down and hits six 3s in the first half. It’s hard to come back from that and we almost did. I really wish we had the ability to keep it close in the first half and do what we did in the second half because I think it would have been a better game.”
Gulbin scored 17 of her 27 points in the final quarter with a heroic effort. Sweeny added 12.
“I think people look at Claire and underestimate her and I think they’ve been doing that her whole career,” Coloney said.
In the end, the Warriors, like everyone else this year, were unable to stop the machine.
“They only have one loss for a reason,” Coloney said. “They move the ball as well as any basketball team, male or female, that I’ve ever seen.”
For the Eagles’ four seniors, successfully defending their title produced a sense of pride revealed by the smiles on their faces as they accepted the championship trophy.
“It’s really exciting because going into this year we knew we were going to be good, but we also had to prove it to everyone else because we did lose three really good players last year,” Lynch said. “But we knew with Allie and Cassi coming in we could be just as good and I think we proved that tonight.”