No. 2 Notre Dame-Fairfield hangs to beat SWC rival New Fairfield

NEW FAIRFIELD — When the Notre Dame-Fairfield and New Fairfield meet in girls basketball meet every season, it often winds up being among the most intense game either team plays.

Since meeting in back-to-back SWC championships in 2015 and 2016 and splitting, the rivalry has continued to grow and intensify.

As players have come and gone, the rivalry seems to carry a memory that transcends graduating classes.

Most players remembered last year’s meeting, an overtime thriller in which the two-time defending SWC champion Lancers walked off winners.

On Monday night when the teams met again sporting the best records in the conference, and the rivalry picked up right where it left off.

With blocks, steals, and fouls to go around, the defensive showdown saw No. 2 Notre Dame-Fairfield score its second lowest point total of the year, but it was still enough to take down New Fairfield again, 45-40.

Notre Dame was led by Kayla Tilus’ 14 points, and Taylor Gibbs, who scored 13 and delivered the final blows of the game.

The outcome came down to the final minute, with Notre Dame leading by three with just 12 seconds left. Gibbs, a sophomore, was fouled and sank both free throws to clinch the victory .

“We knew this was about to be a good game from last year when we went into overtime,” Tilus said. “They were down at the beginning, but we knew they were going to come back, they are a very good team. But we were ready, we knew they would come hard at us.”

It took New Fairfield more than six minutes to score its first points of the game, when Jordan Siemonsen hit a three for the only Rebels points in the quarter.

“We relish to play the opportunity to play a team that good in our own home gym,” New Fairfield coach Brendan Moore said. “I thought we played extremely hard. We made some mistakes early and got into a hole that is tough to climb out of, but we came close.”

Trailing 11-3, New Fairfield was able to tie the game at 12 within the first three minutes, but the Lancers responded with an 11-0 run to end the half with a 23-12 lead.

“People see us score a lot of points because we are athletic, but the thing that I really focus on every day is defense,” Notre Dame coach Maria Conlon said. “Sometimes I think we struggle offensively because we don’t get enough shots off in practice. We have to, because when you have games like this you need to be able to get stops.”

New Fairfield pulled within 34-30 at the end of the third quarter, finishing on a 6-0 run with a buzzer beater by the team’s leading scorer, sophomore Jadyn Brenneman.

Brenneman finished the game with 14 points and has shined as the Rebels point guard since four year starter Ava Romanello was sidelined with an injury.

“She is only a sophomore, and she has done some incredible things for us,” Moore said. “She has had big scoring games and has really had to step up with our four-year starting point guard being hurt for six games now. It has been a lot on her shoulders, but she keeps making huge plays and she is just going to keep getting better.”

As expected, a playoff atmosphere filled the New Fairfield gym.

“This is a postseason environment, and you want that as much as possible in the regular season,” Conlon said. “We have some stuff we need to tighten up and work on, and that is easier to do when you actually see it in a game where you gut it out and only win by five.”

Notre Dame was without its best player for most of the final quarter after Aizhanique Mayo fouled out with 2:15 left in the game.

“This is a tough place to play, and they are a good team,” Conlon said. “They play hard, they run their stuff. I am just happy that the kids that were in at the end of the game dug it out. These are going to be the types of things we need to do as we advance into the postseason.”

Notre Dame-Fairfield (11-2) has continued to leave no doubt that it still reigns supreme in the SWC, even when things aren’t going its way.

“You have to find a way to win, no matter who is in foul trouble or if we aren’t shooting well,” Conlon said. “We will probably see them again, which I welcome.”

New Fairfield falls to 9-3 following its first in conference loss of the season, though there were many positives to take away.

“In the second half we cleaned up some mistakes on defense that we were making,” Moore said. “We know how good we can be on defense, and to hold a team like that down that well, we are happy about that.”

If there is any SWC team that Notre Dame-Fairfield has concern about come playoff time, one would have to imagine it is New Fairfield.

“That is a real good program in Notre Dame, and for a couple of years now we have played them really tough,” Moore said. “We are going to hope to fight back and hopefully see them in the postseason at some point.”

Will.Aldam@hearstmediact.com; @AldamWill