Girls basketball: Trumbull Eagles repeat as FCIAC champions

The top-seeded Trumbull High girls basketball team jumped out to a sizeable lead and withstood a late surge by No. 2 Wilton to win the FCIAC tournament championship game, 60-49, at a packed and noisy Fairfield Ludlowe gymnasium on Thursday night.

Sparked by game MVP Julie Keckler’s solid all-around play — 14 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals — the Eagles took an 18-2 lead and never looked back.

The Warriors made the Eagles hear footsteps in the fourth quarter, as they trimmed what swelled to a 28-point lead at one point down to eight with just under two minutes remaining.

“It feels amazing. I can’t believe we just did that. I’m so happy for the team,” Keckler said.

The Eagles won their second consecutive conference crown, and third in five trips under the direction of coach Steve Tobitsch since the 2010-11 campaign.

This one, Tobitsch said, was special given the Eagles overcame graduation to some strong players and got major contributions from freshmen Cassi Barbato and Allison Palmieri, along with a solid group of returnees who took on more substantial roles.

“The girls came out focused and they were determined to get the job done,” said Tobitsch, whose squad drained five 3-pointers in the opening quarter to take a 23-10 advantage into the second period.

“It was fun to see the shots falling,” Tobitsch said of the offense’s hot start.

The Eagles, who built a 36-14 halftime cushion, made eight shots from downtown overall.

Eight players scored, with seven logging between five and eight points in a balanced secondary attack behind Keckler’s 14.

Palmieri and Barbato, along with Krystina Schueler, logged eight apiece. Meghan Lesko and Brady Lynch both dropped in six, and Kelly O’Leary and Aisling Maguire each tacked on five.

Lynch and Barbato each pulled down six rebounds, Maguire had a pair of steals and blocked two shots. Schueler had two blocks.

Trumbull seemed to be in complete control heading into halftime.

After the Warriors scored the first bucket of the second quarter, the Eagles went on a 13-2 run to close out the half.

Keckler was everywhere.

She came up with an offensive rebound that led to her trip to the line for three foul shots after a Wilton hack during her attempt from long range in the left corner. Keckler sank two of three attempts. She then converted a steal and end-to-end effort into two points, and followed that up by converting another change of possession into another basket.

The lead bulged to 29-12.

“I never feel confident at halftime. We told them, we said they were going to make a run,” Tobitsch said. “I think they were the more aggressive team for a bit in the second half. I think we got on our heels a little bit.”

Wilton fell behind 42-14, before going on a 30-11 run behind the efforts of the game’s high-scorer, Claire Gulbin (27 points, including nine on a trio of 3-pointers).

It was 49-28 Trumbull after three quarters, and scoreboard read 53-44 with 2:34 to play.

A 3-pointer by Gulbin, who netted 17 of her team’s 21 in the final stanza alone, got the Warriors as close as they would get, making it 55-47 with 1:45 showing on the scoreboard clock.

Things were getting a little tense on the Eagles’ side.

Keckler didn’t think the lead would completely disappear.

“I knew we could pull it out,” she said.

A Wilton steal off the inbound out of the timeout made things all the more nerve-racking for the Eagles, but an offensive foul and subsequent Trumbull basket ended any hopes of a completion to the comeback effort.

After the foul, Palmieri took a mid-court sideline inbound entry, drove to the basket, and converted a 3-point play, making it 58-47 with 1:31 to go.

Trumbull was 10-for-20 from the foul line, as Keckler drained seven of those freebies, and Wilton was 14 of 26 from the charity stripe.