By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — When Kenny Wright received the ball near the top of the key, about 10 seconds left on the clock, there was no question what was going to happen next.
“As the leader, at that moment I was the guy,” said Wright, the soft-spoken but assured captain for Stamford High School. I’m a team leader but at that moment, it was on me.”
The Black Knights, in a game between two very good teams with at atmosphere that oozed of playoff intensity, were trailing Ridgefield at home, 49-48.
Wright eyed the situation like a pool player lining up a shot, drove the lane and hit a floater as he was fouled. Wright made the free throw, intercepted the Tigers’ long inbounds pass and was fouled again as he landed hard on the court. His two free throws punctuated a 53-49 win that further stamped the Black Knights as major players in the FCIAC.
In a game with seven fourth-quarter lead changes, Wright finished with a game-high 24 points, including 9 of his team’s last 15.
“We’ve been leaning on Kenny all year and we’re going to continue to lean on him,” Stamford coach Danny Melzer said.
In a five-day span, the Black Knights (5-2) won at Bassick, St. Joseph and then handed the Tigers (5-1), who lost a lot of talent last year but not their fundamental soundness nor intensity, their first loss.
“The last three games the beginning part of my speech has been how this is the biggest game we’ve played so far this year,” Melzer said. “We can’t get overconfident.”
Melzer will keep his players grounded but they have gone from crawl to sprint, already one win away from last year’s total, without an in-between pace. And the poise gained at Bassick helped the Black Knights hold on against St. Joseph and Ridgefield.
“I guarantee you we’ve opened up some eyes,” Wright said. “People felt we couldn’t beat Ridgefield, couldn’t beat St. Joseph.”
This was a defensive battle between two programs that both preach and master the art.
Ridgefield nearly pulled off another tough road win despite making just 12 of 23 free throws and having one of its top shooters, Matt Brennan, held to 4 points. Brennan’s name was noticeable on the whiteboard in the Black Knights’ locker room. He was shadowed all night by Ancel Nevers.
“We watched him against St. Joseph,” said Melzer of Brennan, referring to the Tigers’ overtime win Wednesday night. “Ancel, you give him a specific assignment and he steps up. He did a phenomenal job.”
Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan was disappointed but not devastated by Friday’s outcome. He spoke more after the game about his team’s overall body of work to date.
“They want to be better than everyone thought they were going to be,” McClellan said. “We lost some kids last year. We’re kind of ahead of the curve. Everyone thought we were going to be down.”
While Stamford is pretty balanced, McClellan spoke about Wright’s importance prior to the game.
“He’s a really good player. He’s one of the top players in the FCIAC,” McClellan said. “I was impressed with his poise. He made some big plays. He made one more play than we did.”
Ridgefield trailed at the start of the second quarter, 24-17, but rallied with a 15-6 run to take a 4-point lead, its biggest of the night.
The second half was get-down-and-dirty basketball, the way these two teams are going to have to play to succeed. Neither team led by more than 3 points over the last 10 minutes until Wright’s final free throw.
It was his three points before that forged the outcome.
“At a point I was nervous but knew what I had to do,” Wright said. “Coach wanted me to take it and I’m glad he did that.”
Wright credited the Tigers’ Zach Ward with his defensive effort throughout the night, referring to him by his jersey number.
“Twenty-two was doing a good job, so I had to reach into my bag of tricks,” Wright said.
Bag of tricks?
“Little spin moves,” he said with a smile. “I’ve got a little bit of stuff.”
For Stamford, it turned out to be the Wright stuff.
Ridgefield scoring leaders: Patrick Racy 13, Zach Ward 12, Charlie Irwin 10.
Stamford scoring leaders: Kenny Wright 24, Gianni Carwin 13, James Gronberg 7.