RIDGEFIELD — With its best player sidelined for the remainder of the season, two wins away from a second conference title, the Ridgefield girls basketball team could collectively find a way to compensate for the loss of Katie Flynn’s spirit, intensity and leadership.
But when it came time in tonight’s FCIAC semifinal game to make up for her lost scoring, the Tigers turned to their player who by trade has made a name by keeping balls from reaching the net.
Kelly Chittenden, better known for her play as the goalkeeper on Ridgefield’s girls soccer team, scored a career-high 21 points to lead unbeaten Ridgefield to a 64-51 win over fifth-seeded St. Joseph.
“I knew I had to go the line because I see myself as a good free throw shooter,” said Chittenden, who scored 10 points on foul shots in the fourth quarter. “When it came down to making free throws I knew I had to take over the responsibility.”
Free throws ultimately became the deciding factor as the game turned into a literal foul shooting contest in the fourth quarter. The officials removed any sense of rhythm from what had been a good game with repeated — and many suspect — calls. The teams combined to take 47 foul shots in the final period.
Ridgefield (15-0) scored 27 points in the fourth quarter — 22 from the foul line. The Tigers missed 11 attempts.
The Cadets were nine for 14 from the line in the final period but just 14 for 29 over all.
No. 1 Ridgefield, which won the title a year ago as the seventh seed, will host third-seeded Trumbull in Saturday night’s semifinal. The Eagles eliminated Danbury tonight. The Tigers defeated Trumbull in last year’s semifinals and again on the opening day of the season.
The loss of Flynn, who found out last weekend she contracted mononucleosis, is seismic. She is averaging about 15 points and five rebounds and has had as big an impact on her team as any player in the league. Such a setback, with the timing, would have derailed most teams.
But the Tigers led throughout the second half and always had an answer for St. Joseph’s runs.
“It was a great team effort,” Ridgefield coach Rob Coloney said. “It stinks to lose any players that you battled with the entire year, especially considering all the adversity all teams, including us have had to overcome. I’m just super proud of the team we have here. To be able to get back to the championship for the second year in a row is something I’m so proud of them for.”
Chittenden, whose 11 first-half points came from the field, had plenty of support offensively. Cali Stietzel finished with 12 points, Siovhan Moroney added 11 and Kaya Weiskopf finished with 10 points.
The 54 points is just over twice what the four have averaged this season.
Chittenden had been averaging six points.
“Kelly is no stranger to the bright lights,” Coloney said. “She’s not only just another coach on the floor but another girl who is such a calming presence. She’s a little bit different in terms of her intensity. She bottles that stuff up and when we need her most she rises to the occasion. It is no surprise to me.”
Chittenden said she felt the Tigers needed her to be more assertive offensively tonight.
“Sometimes I pass up my own shots and I decided I would take them this time,” Chittenden said. I just wanted to play my own game and it worked.”
Kayleigh Carson scored 17 points to lead St. Joseph (11-4). Dennaye Hinds added 10 points.
The first half was closely contested, with neither team after the opening minutes leading by more than three points.
A 7-0 run that included both a 3-point shot and steal and layup by Stietzel put Ridgefield up 37-30 late in the third quarter.
Weiskopf’s 3-point shot to open the final period made it a 10-point game and became one of the final shots not attempted from the foul line. St. Joseph got as close as 55-50 with 1:34 left, but Chittenden and Faith Arnold combined to make six straight free throws.
“We’re just trying to get to practice tomorrow and get ready for Trumbull,” Coloney said. “Trumbull is a tremendous team and we will have our hands full.”