FAIRFIELD — Griffin Golden made a rare confession Tuesday night.
He suffered from a 32-minute bout of anxiety.
“To be honest I actually felt pretty nervous out there dribbling and passing,” the Greenwich junior said after playing the part of unsung-hero in a 65-54 win over Ridgefield in the first game of the FCIAC boys basketball semifinals at Fairfield Warde. “I felt OK taking shots though.”
In a season in which different players have stepped into the role of best supporting actor alongside leading men CJ Byrd and Alex Wolf, it was Golden’s turn. He finished with 11 points, including the 3-point shot in the fourth quarter that ignited the game-breaking run.
“He has ice in his veins,” Greenwich coach Bill Brehm said. “Griffin knocks down big shots. He does all the dirty-work stuff.”
In a tournament in which the higher seed has won five of the six games — the lone exception was No. 5 Stamford taking down fourth-seeded Westhill in the quarterfinals — No. 2 Greenwich is back in the final for just the second time and first since 2002.
The Cardinals will attempt to win their first league title when they face No. 1 Bridgeport Central, the defending champion, which defeated Stamford in Tuesday’s second game, 66-47.
Greenwich (20-2) has flourished behind the 1-2 punch of Byrd and Wolf, who finished with 22 and 17 points, respectively, against Ridgefield. But Wolf fouled out with 2:55 remaining and Greenwich nursing a precarious 53-52 lead.
On Saturday afternoon, Tommy Povinelli stepped up with 19 points in Greenwich’s quarterfinal win over Wilton. Jonathan Palmer has been a constant on defense all year.
Tuesday was Golden’s turn. On the possession after Wolf exited, he hit an open 3-point shot that was the start of a 9-0 run.
“I was a little nervous when the score was close, but we’ve played a ton of close game this year and won most of them,” Golden said. “We know how to win close games.”
No. 3 Ridgefield (17-5) played well for most of the night, taking a 34-32 halftime lead on Patrick Racy’s two free throws and maintaining it until Greenwich used an 8-0 run in which the Tigers were scoreless for five minutes to go ahead, 51-48.
Racy, who finished with 26 points in one of his best efforts of the year, kept the Tigers close, but he was the only player on the team to score — 6 points — in the final 8 1/2 minutes.
That pointed to another Greenwich constant: defense. Brehm installed a 3-2 zone that was employed for the first time this year.
“We put it in this weekend and I think it was huge tonight,” Brehm said. “We ran it to perfection in my mind. We didn’t have a zone in to match up with shooters. I couldn’t ask them to run it any better.”
Added Golden, “Actually what we talked about at halftime was what was going to win this game was defense. It was about our heart and about our soul. We have a couple of great offensive players on this team, but what sets us apart is defense. We practice harder than any team in the state.”
Defense was the deciding factor in the nightcap, as Central’s pressure finally wore the Black Knights down.
Led by Kenny Wright (14 points), Stamford (15-7) was ahead early and within 21-19 midway through the second period.
The Hilltoppers (21-1) built their lead to seven points at halftime and completed a 17-4 spurt midway through the third quarter to go ahead, 44-29. Central led by as many as 19 points.
“That’s the size of it. The game can’t go fast enough for us,” Central coach Barry McLeod said. “As hectic as we can make it.”
McLeod said that early in his career he was too much of a perfectionist and had to adapt his expectations.
“Now when we have eight or nine possessions and six or seven of them are positive, you have to deal with that,” McLeod said. “That’s a pretty good percentage.”
While Player of the Year Tyler Ancrum again did a great job running the offense, McLeod admitted he has another favorite player on his roster.
“Bretoux, he’s my guy,” said McLeod, referring to Sha’quan Bretoux, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “I’m a little biased. “I think he’s the toughest matchup in the league. Inside, outside, knocking down 3s. He’s a nightmare on defense.”
Bretoux said he is happy to play whatever role is needed on a given night.
“We talk about using my lift to get us rebounds and be versatile,” Bretoux said. “Whatever flows. Whatever the defense gives me. Today it was the 3.”