RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield has stamped itself as a fourth-quarter team through the first half of the season. It might not be the preferred course when that means rallying from behind, as the Tigers have had to do three times in the past two weeks, but if the outcomes remain the same, their coach, Andrew McClellan, will gladly accept it.
Trailing Bridgeport Central by three points early in the fourth quarter, Ridgefield went on an 11-0 run and pulled away for a 78-70 win at home tonight to remain unbeaten in league play.
“I think that’s a good team,” McClellan said of the Hilltoppers. “It’s a hard team to stop. They actually made some outside shots today that made them harder to stop. We’re a second-half team, we make some adjustments.”
The Tigers improved to 9-2 over all and 8-0 in league play. Including the postseason, the defending champions have now won 15 straight conference games.
The performance may have been uneven but the numbers weren’t for the Tigers. McClellan could look up and down the stat sheet and smile.
Five players finished in double figures, led by Brenden McNamara and Jackson Mitchell with 17 points apiece. James St. Pierre added 15, while Chris Knachel finished with 12 and Alex Price 10.
“We spread it around,” McClellan said. “The regular guys get a lot of points but we seem to have, of our seven or eight guys who score for us, we almost always have four or five in double figures, which in high school basketball is a huge luxury. Even last year, with all our success, we would struggle to get that fourth guy into double figures on a nightly basis.”
Mitchell, the All-State receiver, was able to position himself near the basket and do what he does best: catch passes. The Tigers’ ball movement freed him for easy chances in the paint.
“Our guards were finding open players,” Mitchell said. “We have really talented players so as long as I finish I know the passes are going to be there.”
Mitchell also had 14 rebounds.
“He’s running into form with basketball,” McClellan said. “He’s getting more comfortable when the ball is in his hands. The best part about him is his competitiveness. He fits right in with some of our other players that are so competitive and he’s not scared of anything. A huge double-double night for him. He doesn’t usually get the scoring, he doesn’t care about that but because of what they were doing tonight he was able to get some dunk downs and finish and show the skill that he has grown into.”
The Hilltoppers (6-4, 6-3) lost a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight game, though they played well for most of the night and showed glimpses of a team most consider a dangerous sleeper.
Dajon Fulton led Central with 19 points, though he had just five in the second half and none in the final quarter.
“I thought Fulton really kind of went off in the first half and in the second half we held him,” McClellan said.
Zack William added 17 for Central and Ra’Quan Riley and Rajeeve Walker finished with 10 apiece.
Riley scored with 1:04 left, which turned out to be the final points of the game. He was fouled and missed the free throw and the Tigers were able to run out the rest of the clock.
McNamara finished with 8 rebounds and 5 assists, while St. Pierre, Knachel and Ryan Malley also had 5 assists apiece.
“Best stat of the night,” McClellan said. “When my guys get themselves organized and in the right spots we have enough skill that we can get great shots or layups. In the first half I just think we looked like we weren’t sure who was taking the ball out, we weren’t sure who was going to be where. We talked about it at halftime and I don’t think that happened in the second half at all. And that’s why we were able to score a ton of easy baskets and that opens it up for the 3s and we made our free throws down the stretch.”
While the Tigers would prefer to play with a lead, Mitchell said the way they finish games will remain unchanged.
“We’re a really determined team,” Mitchell said. “We don’t get down if we’re losing. We keep fighting until we come out on top.”