FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball team rode another great start to the Final Four of the FCIAC Tournament.
The Falcons jumped out to a 17-2 lead, weathered a few rallies and rolled to a 71-60 win over St. Joseph tonight at Fairfield Warde.
“That was huge, that was our goal from the start, to get off to that run was amazing,” said Ludlowe point guard James Bourque, who had another strong performance running the offense. “Our defense started that, executing our gameplan so well and that really set the tone for the game.”
The fourth-seeded Falcons (17-4) have a number of players who have led the team in scoring this season and tonight was Rowan Keesser’s and Sam Sweeney’s turns. Keesser finished with 21 while Sweeney scored 20.
“You focus on one guy and the other four are going to go off with 10, 15 points each,” Bourque said. “We have so many weapons, even off the bench we have so many weapons who can score. That’s what’s so good about this team.”
Ludlowe will face top-seeded Ridgefield in the second of Tuesday’s semifinals. The Tigers followed almost the same template as the Falcons for a 60-37 win over New Canaan in tonight’s final game.
The No. 5 Cadets (14-7), who lost to Ludlowe by 29 during the regular season, made several runs to get back into the game. Each time the Falcons had an answer.
“We haven’t been playing that great the last three games,” Ludlowe coach John Dailey said. “We’ve been a little lethargic. Tonight we stressed getting off to a hot start, shooting with confidence the way we like to do. We thought our defense would be the difference and it was.”
The Cadets got as close as 66-60 with 1:13 remaining after two free throws by Paul Fabbri. Ludlowe made just five of 10 free throws down the stretch but that was enough to allow them to move on.
“I knew they were going to score and so we were going to have to score in the second half and we did just enough,” Dailey said. “I’m a little disappointed in how we shot free throws down the stretch. I’m so proud of our kids. At this time of year you just want to survive and advance and we got off to that good lead. That got us going and we just sort of hung on.”
Ian Bentley added 12 points and Patrick Kilbride 10 to a balanced attack.
“What I like about this team is even if we’re not making shots, somebody is hitting free throws and we always find a way to win,” Bourque said. “That’s what we did tonight. I’m so proud of this team and can’t wait for Tuesday.”
Jason James scored 17 points for St. Joseph. Paul Fabbri added 14.
Bourque, who finished with 8 points, was again the glue holding the Falcons together.
“He doesn’t always light it up on the scoreboard but he will come up with the big steal, makes a great play, an assist, he gets to the rim. He does it all,” Dailey said of Bourque.
In tonight’s second game, top-seeded Ridgefield, playing off its defense, held New Canaan scoreless for the first 7:12 to take a 17-0 lead. The Rams got as close as seven but saw each rally attempt answered by a Tiger run.
“We knew they would be ready to play us after beating them by 32 (during the regular season) so we talked about getting off to a good start,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “We just have tremendous leadership and toughness on this team. We got that big lead up and we hung on. You knew they wouldn’t quit. Any time they got it down to 10 or whatever we would go on a little six- or eight-point run.”
Chris Knachel scored half of his 18 points in the opening quarter for Ridgefield (19-2), which has been as steady as a metronome all season. Luke McGarrity scored 10 of his 15 points for the Tigers, while Emmett O’Malley added 9 and James Rush 8.
“Getting off to that kind of start is a huge advantage and throughout the game we were just able to kind of put them away methodically,” Knachel said. “They made a little run in the third but we were able to come back from that.”
New Canaan (12-9) opened the second half on an 11-1 run, with Alex Gibbens hitting two 3-pointers, but four different players scored as the Tigers responded with seven straight points.
The Rams got within 12 points early in the final quarter but Ridgefield finished with a 15-4 run.
“These guys are good basketball players, smart basketball players, a ton of mental toughness,” McClellan said. “I thought out defense again was great. It didn’t allow any of their kids to get into a rhythm. I thought Gibbens tried to put the team on his back and made some really tough shots and that was the only thing that kept them within striking distance.”
Gibbens finished with 17 points for the Rams. Leo Magnus added 8.