TRUMBULL — There is no doubt the members of the Ridgefield girls basketball team came into tonight’s game at Trumbull with a massive chip on their shoulders, one that coach Rob Coloney recently and strategically planted.
When Coloney has a talented team — which he surely does again — any preseason picks that do not make it the undisputed championship favorite is bulletin-board material.
And the consensus made the defending FCIAC champion Tigers a legitimate contender, but noted the returning talent at Trumbull, Fairfield Ludlowe and Danbury.
No doubt Coloney took that Final Four praise and spun it into having his players feel like the world has them down to finish 0-12 — 12 being the number of regular-season games being played in this coronavirus-affected winter.
“I’m not going to say anything but I think our playing can speak for itself,” Katie Flynn wryly said after helping to lead the Tigers to an impressive opening-night 47-40 win over the Eagles, a rematch of last year’s FCIAC semifinal game.
On the same court where they completed an improbable run of knocking off the top three seeds last February to win the league title, the Tigers’ strong play at the very least kept a target on their backs.
“We prepared with the little time we had a lot and we knew what we were going to play,” said guard Kelly Chittenden, who finished with 11 points and had a solid all around game. “If we made a mistake we put it in our rear-view mirror and never dwelled on it.”
Trumbull went on a 9-0 run to take a 10-3 lead midway through the first quarter, before Ridgefield matched and even surpassed the Eagles’ renowned defensive pressure.
Flynn and Chittenden handled the scoring during a surge of 12 straight points that gave the Tigers a lead they never relinquished. They built it up to as many as 15 points in the third quarter.
What distinguished Ridgefield’s performance was the way it handled Trumbull’s fourth-quarter runs. After the Eagles opened with four quick points to get within 37-27, Flynn hit an open 3-pointer from up top.
When Trumbull got back within nine, Faith Arnold, the senior who returned to the team after sitting out last season, hit a big drive to the basket. Arnold, who unsurprisingly was on the court almost the entire final quarter, later hit Flynn for a basket that secured the win.
If tonight was an indication, the Tigers could potentially be even better than a year ago. Flynn finished with 19 points and was a factor on defense and the boards. She should be one of the league’s best players. Chittenden and Cali Stietzel have another year of experience and Arnold bolsters a deeper and more skilled bench, if she stays there.
“I think we just have a little bit of a different identity this year.” Coloney said. “We’re doing a few different things to allow the team that we have to flourish. Our thing is play fast, play hard and let the mistakes be on me during the game. So I had a lot of mistakes today and I have to fix those. But they certainly played fast and played hard.”
Emi Roberto led a balanced attack with 10 points for Trumbull. Sarah Stolze added 9 and Cassi Barbato was held to 7 points, all in the final quarter.
The Eagles have to come back Friday to play Fairfield Ludlowe. The two teams — Coloney will no doubt be quick to note — were picked by many to finish first and second in some order.
“We have a really good schedule this year,” Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said. “I think we play a lot of tough teams in our 12-game schedule, which is what we want. Looking at Ridgefield, this could be from last year. They were hustling for extra possessions and knocked down some big shots. I think we’re going to be better in the end. I think this is a game we can learn from.”
Certainly no one is ready to write the Eagles off.
As for Ridgefield’s status?
“We like being the underdogs,” Chittenden said with a smile. “It is motivation and we like to show people who we actually are.”