Twenty-seven years ago the Trinity Catholic boys basketball team entered the Wilton Field House as an underdog in the FCIAC championship against undefeated Fairfield (Ludlowe and Warde were a consolidated school at the time). It was my first winter working at the Stamford Advocate.
Led by Rashamel Jones, who would go on to play at UConn, the Crusaders came away with the win, and one of the dominant programs in the state for most of the next two decades was birthed. (Trivia question: Who was Trinity’s MVP in the game? Everyone would guess Jones, it was Bobby Spillane).
Trinity returns to Wilton tonight for the last time — it was announced last week the school would close at the end of the school year — to play in the final for the 13th time, and 12th since 1993.
Until the end of the semifinals on Tuesday, I thought the Crusaders were on their way to an eighth title. It still very well could happen. I’m just no longer predicting it. After watching Trinity and Ridgefield, tonight’s opponent, play their first two games in the tournament, I’m now picking the Tigers to win their second straight title and third in four years.
Call it Ridgefield 57, Trinity Catholic 54.
Why the change? A few reasons. First, the Crusaders barely survived their first two playoff games. They almost lost to Wilton in the quarterfinals and blew most of a 12-point fourth quarter lead in the semifinals against Fairfield Warde. The Mustangs nearly pulled off the perfect missed free throw play to win the game.
Trinity has had the tempo dictated to it in both games. The Crusaders should be able to make other teams play at their speed. Now they face the Tigers, who are both better than Wilton and Warde and superior at controlling pace of play. Ridgefield has also played with great confidence and consistency, and are more experienced in big games.
The big sticking point: Ridgefield’s lone conference loss was to Trinity — by 29 points. The Tigers can’t match their athleticism. And I am concerned they could get badly beaten on the boards.
But if one team is likely to make fewer mistakes, it is Ridgefield. I like Andrew McClellan, the FCIAC Coach of the Year, to make adjustments from the first game, though I think he will use the size of that loss as a motivator for his players
I also think a Ridgefield player — maybe Johnny Briody, since he has played so well twice in the building — in addition to Luke McGarrity and Chris Knachel, will step up and have a big game.
Finally, let’s throw in a little Ridgefield kismet. A week ago the Ridgefield girls team beat favored Staples in double overtime to knock off the top three seeds and win the FCIAC title as the No. 7 seed. If the girls team can do that, why not the boys bouncing back from a 29-point loss for a little revenge?
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