RIDGEFIELD — In a game with wide-ranging playoff implications, the Ridgefield boys basketball team tonight used a 19-0 first-half run to take a 30-10 lead against Fairfield Warde midway through the second quarter.
A margin that big built so quickly allowed the Tigers to withstand several runs and hold on for a 69-61 win, strengthening their position for the top seed in next week’s FCIAC Tournament.
I thought we played very well the first 12 minutes of the game,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. When you play like that you get a little bit of a cushion. That team is not going to go away quietly. They are going to play all the way to the end. I thought in the fourth quarter there was some more good foul shooting all the way down the stretch. And I thought our defense was amazing. That’s a super-talented team and we did a great job.”
It was a physical game, with the teams combining to take 44 foul shots.
The Mustangs were held scoreless for over 6 1/2 minutes. They got the deficit down to 14 at the half, then went on a 9-0 run to close within 36-31 midway through the third quarter.
Ridgefield responded with 11 unanswered points and held off one more Warde comeback.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” said Chris Knachel, who finished with 20 points. “Super poised and ready to go. This was one of our biggest games of the year so we were ready to go and made some shots right off.”
Luke McGarrity was 11 for 12 from the line in the fourth quarter to help the Tigers maintain the lead. He finished with 21 points.
“When the other team goes on a run it is just important to stay calm and move on to the next play and be ready to go, and if they score go down and try to get a bucket,” Knachel said. “We just keep going the whole game.”
The result started to provide some clarity to the top of the standings with three games left. The Tigers (15-2, 12-1 FCIAC) need one more win or a Warde loss to be assured of no worse than the second seed in the playoffs, which begin a week from Saturday. They hold a one-game lead over Trinity Catholic, which handed them their lone league loss.
Warde (14-3, 11-2) has a one-game lead over Fairfield Ludlowe, Wilton and St. Joseph for third place. The Mustangs have wins over the first two and play the Cadets on the final night of the regular season.
“The first quarter we played the type of game I thought we would, defensive minded,” Warde coach Ryan Swaller said. “Getting down so much in the second quarter…they made shots and that hurt us. From there we showed fight in the third quarter but it is hard to come back from that big a deficit. Guys weren’t ready. Guys coming off the bench to step in weren’t ready to do their job.”
Jack McKenna had a big game inside and led Warde with 18 points. Jordyn Davis added 14 points and Justyn Davis finished with 12.
McKenna took advantage of the Tigers’ prioritizing the perimeter against a team that is dangerous from 3-point range. Warde had just three 3-point shots and no more than one in a quarter.
“You have to give up something,” McClellan said. “We were going to make them get twos all night and we were willing to do that. They have too many people to shut them all out. It’s defend everything. Try to take away what their strengths are. What happened is we executed so well on their three really good perimeter players, that loosened it up for McKenna a little bit.”
Swaller said with better execution the Mustangs’ means of scoring could have been more diversified.
“I felt that we did dominate down low,” Swaller said. “They overplay ball side and the weak side is open, you’ve just got to move the ball quick enough. We didn’t move it quick enough to get open shots. I think in the second half we got the game to be more our style, especially late in the fourth quarter.”
If the Tigers are going to be tripped up in their final three games, the biggest threat comes on Wednesday against Wilton, their biggest rival. It will be their final road game before finishing at home.
“We take it one game at a time,” McClellan said. “We celebrate tonight and start on Wilton tomorrow. This team has been super mature about its approach. That’s why we’re 15-2.”