FAIRFIELD — Shrugging off a week of turmoil, the members of the Ridgefield girls basketball team showed their resilience today, taking down the two-time defending champion.
Sophomore Cali Stietzel hit a 3-point shot with 26 seconds remaining and Megan Klosowski made a steal on the final play to lead the Tigers to a 41-40 win over Trumbull in the second of four FCIAC Tournament quarterfinal games at Fairfield Ludlowe.
“In the warmup he told us if we could hold them below 45 points, that if we can hold them in the 40s we could win so we worked hard on defense,” said Kate Wagner, referring to Anthony Hill, the Tigers’ interim coach. The 3-2 zone we put in helped us out with their drives and controlling Allie. That was our gameplan, try to get her without the ball, especially with Cassi out.”
Allie Palmieri finished with 19 points to lead second-seeded Trumbull (18-3), which was without Cassi Barbato, its second leading scorer, who was home ill. Batbato’s absence had a dramatic impact on the outcome.
“It was just a team effort,” Hill said. “Palmieri is probably the best player in the conference and we just wanted to attack her and make her put the ball on the floor a little bit.”
Ridgefield (12-9), the seventh seed, will play No. 3 Trinity Catholic in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Crusaders defeated Ludlowe, 59-50, in the afternoon’s first game.
In the night session, top-seeded Norwalk used a 21-0 first-half and rolled to a 59-29 win over Stamford. That came after fourth-seeded Danbury withstood a late run by Staples and came away with a 50-41 win.
Stietzel’s basket ended a wild flurry as Ridgefield overcame an eight-point deficit to start the final quarter. The Tigers took a 38-37 lead in the final minute on Katie Flynn’s putback.
Palmieri put the Eagles back on top with a 3-point shot with 34 seconds left, but Stietzel matched it eight seconds later.
Klosowski missed the front end of a one and one with 8.8 seconds left but following a timeout intercepted the Eagles’ inbounds pass and ran out the clock.
The win came on a week that started with coach Tom DiMarzo resigning for personal reasons. Hill took over, and the Tigers played well against unbeaten Norwalk on Wednesday night before the Bears pulled away late.
“I think they started to jell and believe in themselves,” Hill said. “Of course we miss Coach. The kids played well and they were a resilient bunch. They decided they wanted to win and played hard for 32 minutes and this was the result.”
Flynn and Stietzel finished with eight points each for Ridgefield.
Wagner said the players were able to rebound from the turmoil of the past week.
“In the beginning of the season we wanted this to be a player-led team, and the five of us on the floor just be able to use teamwork to get us through,” Wagner said.
Emi Roberto scored 11 points for Trumbull.
Trumbull was hindered by uncharacteristic turnovers, which compounded the absence of Barbato.
“We didn’t get enough scoring opportunities, we threw the ball away a lot and I thought they really hurt us on the boards too,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “They outhustled us for a lot of rebounds and those are things we can control. They were well-prepared and they have a good team over there. They can definitely make some noise in this tournament and the state tournament.”
Trinity, which last won the title in 2008 and reached the final in 2013, led by as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons got as close as 55-48 with 1:14 left.
But Caitlyn Scott, who scored all 12 of her fourth-quarter points from the foul line, made four in a row in the final 55 seconds to secure the win.
“I was just worried about making my shots,” Scott said. “Last game I had trouble from the free throw line but I was ready for today’s game.”
Scott and Kyah Nowlin finished with 16 points to lead the Crusaders (16-4), while Iyanna Lops added 15.
“At this stage you just want to win and advance and I thought we did some really good things and there are some things we need to work on,” Trinity coach Mike Walsh said.
Trinity used a 10-0 run to take a 28-16 lead midway through the second quarter and maintained the advantage.
Lops picked up her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter but the Crusaders got a lift after a 3-point shot by Kiera Fenske, a Nowlin basket in transition and two foul shots by Scott in a span of 39 seconds to go ahead by 17.
Ludlowe (14-7), the sixth seed, rallied behind Anna Paulmann, who scored 11 points in the final period. She finished with 19 points while Bridgett Paulmann added 17.
The Hatters (16-5) led the entire game against Staples. They were ahead at halftime, 31-16, but the fifth-seeded Wreckers chipped away.
Freshman Sydelle Bernstein made two 3-point shots in the final 70 seconds to get Staples (13-8) within 40-34 after three quarters. But each time the Hatters’ advantage was threatened, Ty’Lynn Ith stepped up.
Ith twice answered Staples scores with layups, the second in the closing moments after the Wreckers got within five.
“It’s her stepping up. That’s senior leadership right there,” Danbury coach Jackie DiNardo said. “If it got down to four I would have been nervous.”
Referring to Staples coach Paco Fabian, DiNardo added, “We were able to react to what they did. I knew they were going to come back. He throws those kids in left and right. He got us a little out of our game but we calmed down.”
Ith finished with 16 points to lead Danbury. Tianna Rogers added 13 points and Susana Almeida finished with 11.
DiNardo tried to capitalize on the Hatters’ superior size.
“We took advantage of that,” DiNardo said. “We have to when we can. There are other teams with kids as big as ours but if I can take advantage of it we’ve got to get it.”
Elle Fair and Marley Lopez-Paul each scored 10 points for the Wreckers.
The Bears (21-0) scored just one basket in the first four minutes against Stamford before erupting for 21 straight points in a span of just under eight minutes to take a 23-4 lead.
“We started off a little sloppy here and there but sometimes that’s playoff basketball,” Norwalk coach Ricky Fuller said. “I just told the girls whatever means necessary you’ve just got to get it done. We tightened up a little bit and then we ended up playing a good game.”
Belinda Hunte, who just keeps getting better as the season goes on, led a balanced attack with 13 points for the state’s top-ranked team. Jakara Murray-Leach added 12 points, while Carsyn Langhorne finished with 11 and Ashley Wilson scored nine.
Stamford (12-9) was missing Megan Landsiedel, its best player, who was ill. Jessica Nelson scored a team-high 12 points.
“That slow start woke us up and we were able to turn it on and keep the pedal on the gas,” Fuller said.