WILTON — In a carryover from four nights ago, when it rode a 17-0 start against New Canaan to an FCIAC quarterfinal win, the Ridgefield boys basketball team tonight jumped out to an 11-2 lead against Fairfield Ludlowe, scored the first seven points of the second half and held on for a 54-47 win at Wilton to earn the shot to defend its league title.
“I think the key to the game was our start in the first quarter and then the third quarter,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “As a coach of a really good team we’re not satisfied with how we sustained the rest of the game. We knew they were going to battle back but what we try and do is play 32 minutes or as close to 32 minutes as we can at a certain level. We had two huge bursts and then kind of hung on, which is not characteristic of us but it was enough tonight.”
Johnny Briody, who was the high scorer for the top-seeded Tigers when they played here against Wilton during the regular season, hit four 3 pointers in the first quarter, when he scored 11 of his team-high 16 points. Luke McGarrity, who was named the league Player of the Year earlier in the day, added 15 points and James Rush finished with 11.
Ridgefield (20-2) will go for its third title in four years Thursday night against No. 2 Trinity Catholic, which held on for a 57-55 win over Fairfield Warde in tonight’s first game after the Mustangs missed a game-winning shot at the buzzer.
While the Tigers might not have been as consistent as McClellan would have preferred, their lapses were brief. Ludlowe (17-5), the No. 4 seed, got within five points in the final minute but never put Ridgefield in a situation where it had to score or make a stop on an individual possession.
“We have a really high level of competitiveness and mental toughness and that combination allows us to maybe beat some teams that might be more talented,” said McClellan, who was honored as the league Coach of the Year. The best thing that I love about our program is we’re so consistent. That’s how you win regular season championships, it’s not how you always win playoff championships, but we have 32 minutes and that will be a big test for us on Thursday.
Rowan Keesser scored 14 points and Ian Bentley added nine for the Falcons.
“We knew we wanted to start out strong, that was our emphasis with New Canaan, our emphasis today and we got out hot and started hitting our shots,” McGarrity said. “Obviously Ludlowe is a really good team so they fought back and I’m just proud of the guys that we were able to withstand their comebacks.”
In the first game Trinity Catholic again had to withstand a late comeback and a missed game-tying shot at the buzzer to advance to the final for the first time since 2013.
The second-seeded Crusaders (17-5) had a 57-54 lead when the Mustangs’ Brendan McMahon was fouled with 1.9 seconds left. McMahon made the first shot and purposely missed the second, with the ball caroming off the front of the rim to an open Justyn Davis, whose game-winning 3-point attempt hit off the back of the rim.
“The play is to have a miss and have a big rebound and tip in out to our two guys, Justyn or Eli (Feay),” said Warde coach Ryan Swaller. “They are big guys and shooters. I think Justyn thought time was going quicker, not realizing the ball hadn’t hit anybody yet.”
The Crusaders, who led by as many as 17 points in the first half, were up 47-35 with just over seven minutes remaining. The fifth-seeded Mustangs (17-5), who never led, chipped away, and McMahon’s 3-point shot off a steal narrowed the deficit to 53-52 with 44 seconds left.
Ras Fisher and McMahon traded a pair of free throws, then Fisher made two more with 12.9 seconds left. McMahon was then tripped, setting up the finish.
Malcolm Newman led the Crusaders with 18 points. Fisher added 15, with 11 coming from the foul line. Akim Joseph finished with 11.
McMahon led Warde with 21 points — 13 coming in the fourth quarter. Jordyn Davis added 11 points.
Trinity built a big lead early with terrific defense. An 11-0 run put the Crusaders ahead 23-6 with 2:56 left in the half. Warde got within 28-18 at halftime.
“We were down right from the get-go and playing catch up, which is a hard thing against an athletic team like them,” Swaller said. “I thought we took control of the game in the fourth quarter. We had them on their heels, scoring in bunches to cut it down, cut it down. To have a chance to win the game with the last shot, I’ll take that any day. I just wish we turned it on a little earlier.”
Trinity coach Brian Kriftcher will not talk to The Ruden Report and has directed his players not to as well.