TRUMBULL — It is death by a thousand cuts when facing the Ridgefield boys basketball team. There are seldom roundhouse knockout punches. No, it is winning minutes by three points here, four points there, until you are like St. Joseph was tonight, down by 17 late in what would become a 68-55 loss to the team with the inside track to the top seed in the FCIAC Tournament.
“We don’t have any other options,” Tigers coach Andrew McClellan said. “We don’t have a guy we can throw it to and he can go get 30. We don’t have a guy we can throw it inside to. But we’ve got seven, eight, nine, 10 guys that are ready to play and buy into that style. Really tough defensively.”
Ridgefield improved to 14-2 over all and 11-1 in conference play heading into one of the biggest games of the regular season, at home Monday against Fairfield Warde, which along with Trinity Catholic is one game behind.
The Tigers tonight did pretty much what it has been doing to the rest of the league. There was an 8-0 run before halftime, though the Cadets countered with two baskets to trail at the break, 35-30.
Ridgefield slowly built the lead to 13 points by the end of the third quarter and held its poise, except for a few rare lapses with turnovers, down the stretch.
“We try to methodically stack possessions together,” McClellan said. “We try to outlast people for 32 minutes. I thought we did a good job of that. I think you can see that has been our biggest transformation since December. We were really spurty. We were good but just in spurts. We got a lot more consistent, a lot smarter.”
And a lot deeper. McClellan used 10 players tonight and can use his personnel situationally more than most coaches.
“We know that there are a lot of good teams in the FCIAC,” said Ridgefield guard Luke McGarrity. “We have a lot of guys who come into the game and play 10 to 12 people. We’re going to get up in your face and play hard defense, wear them down and at the end most of these teams get tired.”
McGarrity finished with 23 points and Chris Knachel added 22. They provide the Tigers with what of the league’s better one-two punches.
“They’ve carried us all year long from a leadership standpoint but there are bunch of other guys who kick in six, eight, 10,” McClellan said. “They are our two leaders, they’ve been through the wars, they’re super poised and they have kind of led us to where we are right now. We couldn’t ask to be in a better spot. We control out own destiny.”
The Tigers can clinch the top seed if they win out. Their lone loss was to Trinity, which also has defeated Warde.
St. Joseph (11-5, 9-4) has followed a nine-game winning streak with three straight losses. It still has to play Staples and Warde, but it is unlikely to have to sweat out qualifying for the playoffs.
Paul Fabbri scored 16 points to lead the Cadets. Glenn Manigault added 13 and Jason James 12.
Except for some forced passes into traffic in the final quarter, there was little for McClellan to be dissatisfied about.
“If we want to where we want to get, to where these guys want to get, to the end of the rainbow, we’ve got to keep getting better with that,” McClellan said.