FAIRFIELD — Word had just been received by Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball coach John Dailey that half the bracket of the FCIAC Tournament had been blown up on opening night. Staples and St. Joseph, second and third seeds, respectively, had been sent home before hardly working up a sweat.
Fairfield Warde at No. 10 became the third double-digit seed to advance with a win over Danbury.
“This is the FCIAC, you know,” Dailey said with a smile. “You’ve got to bring it every single night. Seeding is sort of irrelevant. Welcome to the FCIAC.”
Dailey spoke moments after becoming the fourth higher seed to be denied the quarterfinals, though his 51-40 loss to Darien in the 8-9 game hardly could be labeled an upset.
Westhill. Fairfield Warde. Bassick. Greenwich. One of those four schools will be playing a week from Friday night for the FCIAC title, a quartet that looked more realistic a month ago than at 5 this afternoon.
Only a consolidated Fairfield High School team from the town has reached the conference final. Greenwich has made it twice. Neither has won the title. Bassick is not even in the league anymore, repatriating for a month due to the pandemic. In this unusual season, perhaps the bottom half of the bracket is fitting.
Darien (6-7), without a strong pedigree in the sport, has little history qualifying for the playoffs, let alone postseason wins, but tonight it played with greater intensity and execution in the second half to defeat a Ludlowe team known for those same qualities.
“It feels great,” said Miles Drake, who finished with 11 points to lead the Blue Wave’s rally from a 10-point first-half deficit. “We’re hoping the culture is going to change here.”
Where the ninth-seeded Blue Wave does have basketball lineage is on the sideline. Charoy Bentley is back coaching the team after missing last season. Harding, coached by Charlie Bentley, won five league titles during its time in the FCIAC.
Charoy Bentley is less intense on the sideline than his father, and also doesn’t switch out five players at a time. He is working in a different basketball environment, in his own manner.
Case in point: the Falcons (6-7) forced eight early turnovers and fed off the defense to go ahead 19-9 early in the second quarter. Darien slowly chipped away and was down by just three at halftime.
Bentley decided he would say his part and than cede the floor.
“I said something, we all said something, my captains said something,” Bentley said. “They said a lot. They said they are seniors, this is their last year and they’ve got to step it up. Another game is not promised, you have to leave it all out on the floor and that’s what they did.”
Bentley smiled when asked to confirm he did not do all the talking at the break.
“I said my piece but we’re trying to teach these boys to be men,” Bentley said. “If you step up you’re going to be heard and that’s what the captains did.”
The Blue Wave were then heard on the court. It completed what ended up being an 11-0 run with seven quick points to start the third quarter, completed by Drake’s 3-point shot.”
The teams sparred around until early in the fourth quarter, when the Blue Wave slowly pulled away.
Karson Drake also scored 11 points for Darien.
James Mockler scored 11 points and Connor Lawlor finished with 9 for Ludlowe.
“Starting late in the second quarter and the second half they really raised their energy,” Dailey said of Darien. “I thought we played a good first quarter, I thought defensively we were fine in the first half. But momentum is a big thing in basketball and they had all of it at the end of the first half. We didn’t shoot the ball well. It was just one of those nights for us.”
The teams played eight days ago, with Ludlowe going to Darien and coming away with a nine-point win.
But today proved the past is not prologue with FCIAC basketball in this asterisked season, even if the past we are discussing more often than not is days.
Darien won an all-expenses paid trip Friday night to Ridgefield, the top seed, winner of three of the past four FCIAC titles and tournament favorite.
Can the Blue Wave take out the top seed before the tournament’s second week?
“We’ll just take it one day at a time,” Bentley said. “Whoever’s in our way, were going to try and handle them the best way possible. Ridgefield is a good team. We’ve got a job ahead of us.”