RIDGEFIELD — When Katie Flynn stepped in front of her coach and teammates earlier this week to disclose that she had mononucleosis, there was an immediate hushed silence. Flynn is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Ridgefield girls basketball team, which was undefeated and two wins away from a second straight FCIAC title.
“Obviously the girls were pretty shocked,” Ridgefield coach Rob Coloney said. “Basically what we said was Katie Flynn isn’t undefeated, we are. Katie Flynn isn’t the No. 1 seed, we were. It stinks that we lose one of our soldiers, but the team really bought into mixing things up.”
The loss of Flynn didn’t turn out to be a roadblock, but rather the seed to another great comeback story, as the Tigers rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 3 Trumbull, 46-43, at home tonight for a repeat, 24 hours after their boys team three-peated.
Kaya Weiskopf, a sophomore who stepped up into a more prominent role this season, led Ridgefield (16-0) with 14 points, taking her turn in helping to fill Flynn’s missing 15 points. Cali Stietzel added 12 points and was named the most valuable player, while Siovhan Moroney, who was a microcosm of her team’s success in so many ways, finished with eight.
Ridgefield, which trailed at the break, 30-17, and seemed one punch away from getting knocked out, regrouped and held Trumbull (13-3) to just 13 second-half points.
“When we went into halftime and talked the coaches kept it positive,” Weiskopf said. “Our defense hadn’t been as successful as it normally is and we rely on our defense so much. We were disconnected defensively. We came back and defense was why we won.”
Stietzel started the third quarter with a 3-point shot and a 9-2 run in less than two minutes quickly got the deficit down to six. From there the Tigers battled back, drip by literal drip.
They got within five, then two on another trey by Stietzel. A drive by Trumbull’s Emma Gentry made the score 41-37 with 4:12 left. Moroney made a 3-point shot and Weiskopf a layup with 2:10 left to put Ridgefield up, 42-41, its first lead since 7-5 midway through the opening period.
Gentry, who scored 20 points and was sensational, put Trumbull back ahead on an inside basket with 1:47 remaining. Then Weiskopf, playing like a grizzled — and very poised and confident — veteran hit a 3-pointer with 1:26 left for a 45-43 lead.
Moroney made one of two free throws with 9.6 seconds left, but Cassi Barbato was short with a game-tying shot at the buzzer, and the Tigers set up a debate for reunions years from now: which was the more difficult, winning the title as the No. 7 seed a year ago or without Flynn?
“I think the only way we were going to win the game to begin with was to be buoyed by our defense,” Coloney said. “It was that way all year. Going down at the half really put pressure on us as to what we wanted to accomplish. The girls … it didn’t matter who was in there, we have five girls named to one of the All-FCIAC teams. We just got contributions from everywhere tonight and I was so proud of them.”
At one point Flynn was joined on the bench by an injured Kelly Chittenden, who scored 21 in a semifinal win over St. Joseph, while Faith Arnold was in the locker room getting a cut to stop bleeding. In one of Coloney’s best moves, he started Arnold tonight and she held Barbato, the league’s Player of the Year, to seven points.
What the Tigers showed, and it has been a constant throughout both the school’s girls and entire sports program, is a will to win that cannot be denied. Coloney is a master at finding ways to motivate his players, and we in the media make it easy by picking against Ridgefield. One day, unlike Charlie Brown, we will learn not to try and kick the ball.
“What other 15-0 team, No. 1 seed do you know is an underdog in a championship game? Coloney said. “And we were. The thing I love most about this team and the program we are building here is the intestinal fortitude and mental toughness and the belief that they have in one another. They don’t care what other people think. They’re coming in and emptying the tank for us.”
No one demonstrated that more tonight than Moroney, who took Flynn’s spot. She excelled in the most unsung of ways, deflecting a pass that led to a turnover, getting a key rebound, making a defensive stop.
“All the credit goes to our kids tonight,” Coloney said. “I thought they were absolutely fierce. They answered every blow with a blow of their own. I didn’t think it was possible to have a championship game better than last year but I think this certainly is. This is a memory that’s going to be with them the rest of their lives.”