SOUTHBURY — In their last appearance, six days ago, the Ridgefield boys basketball team was able to overcome a 15-point deficit and win the FCIAC championship.
Tonight the Tigers were again able to rally from a similar margin. But unable to take a lead and seemingly exhausted from the effort, their season came to an end in the second round of the Division I Tournament following a 71-67 overtime loss to Immaculate at Pomperaug High School.
“We played hard tonight,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “We didn’t execute well enough on either end. We made a run and we kept playing but at the end of the day we didn’t make enough shots.”
The Tigers, the 10th seed, finished with a 17-7 record. Their highlight was the conference final win against Danbury.
And for a while tonight it seemed like Ridgefield was going to summon the same mojo. From a 28-14 deficit midway through the second quarter, the Tigers grinded away and forged their first tie since the start of the game, 36-36, on James St. Pierre’s 3-point shot with just over 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. The basket ended a 7-0 run.
But as was the case all night, the Mustangs always had an answer. They closed the period with eight straight points to take a 44-36 lead.
Still, Ridgefield chipped away, led by St. Pierre, who ended his career with a 37-point effort.
The Tigers were within three points when seventh-seeded Immaculate scored five in a row to go up, 56-48, with 1:20 remaining.
In their final calling card of the season, the Tigers scored eight straight points to force overtime. Chris Knachel and Luke McGarrity made consecutive 3-point shots and McGarrity, whose free throws closed out the final win over the Hatters, made two shots with 15 seconds left.
Immaculate had two chances to win, but an easy putback attempt off a long miss rimmed out at the buzzer.
Sean Guiry scored the Mustangs’ first 10 points of overtime. A 9-2 run gave them a seven-point lead and they were up by eight with 19.5 seconds left.
St. Pierre scored all 11 of Ridgefield’s points in overtime.
“We had a bunch of opportunities that if we had knocked some of those shots down things could have been a little different,” McClellan said. “Every time we got it back to even they made a couple plays. At the end we were gassed but one shot here or there a bunch of times that we made all year long and it’s a different story right now.”
Knachel scored 16 points for the Tigers, with half coming during the fourth-quarter comeback. McGarrity and Matt DeLuca added seven each.
They were the only four Ridgefield players to score as the team in the early going was tentative and good looks were passed up in the hope of better ones.
“We weren’t aggressive or assertive,” McClellan said. “We talked about that at halftime. I thought they cleaned all that up and were really good in the second half. You have to give credit to Immaculate. Their defense was really good. But we never got in an offensive rhythm.”
Guiry led a balanced Immaculate attack with 20 points. Mike Basile added 18, Quinn Guth finished with 14 and Joey Rios had 10.
“We played from behind the whole game,” McClellan said. “The first quarter I didn’t think we were ready to play. They really were ready to play and took it to us, we were on our heels and the rest of the way we probably played them even or better, but you can’t spot a really good team eight or 10 points like that.”
Ridgefield missed its first six shots of the game and was passive on offense as Immaculate opened up an 11-2 lead.
The Mustangs went up by 14 in the second quarter before the Tigers chipped away behind consecutive 3-point shots from Knachel and St. Pierre.
Knachel got the Tigers within six before Immaculate’s Jack Woods hit a baseline jumper just before the buzzer for a 32-24 halftime lead.
This is the second time in three years the Tigers followed an FCIAC championship with a loss in their first state playoff game.
This was a second-round game; in the criticized format, 12 of the 20 teams in Division I get opening byes.
“When you win the FCIAC Tournament, I thought last time there was a little bit of a hangover effect,” McClellan said. “I don’t think that happened tonight. We played a really good team and they played a better first quarter than us. The way Division I is set up your first game is going to be against a really, really good team.”