If Trinity Catholic, coming off a Class S championship and based solely on preseason expectations, is an early January conference measuring stick, then Ridgefield looked like a solid team capable of competing for a second straight conference title for the first 20 minutes of the teams’ game Saturday in Stamford.
Over the final 16 minutes, it was the Tigers that appeared to be the standard-bearers after rallying from a 12-point deficit for a 64-63 overtime win.
Consider games like this to be the norm this winter. All of the contenders have question marks and right now it doesn’t appear that any one team is going to emerge as a clear-cut favorite. Consistency will prove to be the most important and perhaps the most elusive quality.
Ridgefield made a statement last week with a pair of road wins in Stamford. Brenden McNamara scored 29 points and dominated in a win against the Black Knights, then finished with 15 points after halftime and made the game-winning basket against the Crusaders.
“Honestly I think we can beat anyone when we play our team basketball,” McNamara said. “And as we get more of our team pieces back we’re only going to get better and better. It’s just a fun wild ride for the last one.”
Ridgefield is without Luke McGarrity, its starting point guard, who suffered a broken thumb and will be out at least for a few more weeks. Yet players who were in supporting roles a year ago have stepped up and emerged as reliable contributors, as well as having skills complementary to McNamara’s ability to control the paint.
Most notable has been the outside shooting of James St. Pierre and Alex Price. St. Pierre scored 40 points in last week’s wins, while Price made four late 3-point shots and scored 19 against Trinity.
“We’re just trying to get a little bit better,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “We lost four senior starters but we have good players ready to step in. I think there is a lot of room for us to grow for the rest of the season. I’d be really disappointed if this is as good as we can get.”
The Tigers may be the least heralded defending FCIAC champions in the sport in recent memory, though league coaches consistently praised them during the offseason. In the state writers’ poll that was released tonight, 23 teams received more votes.
While Saturday’s game was played with postseason intensity, few took note of a storyline that two defending champions were on the court. Again, that points to how no team has really distinguished itself yet, and there appear to be a handful of players capable of carrying their teams for stretches. Fundamentals and defense are going to be increasingly important.
While Ridgefield’s first conference title is just 11 months old, the Crusaders and Danbury at least for now still appear to be the biggest darlings. The Tigers’ view is different.
“We know that we’re going to have a target on our back this year and so far we’re thriving on that,” St. Pierre said after the Stamford game. “We’re going to work a little bit harder knowing that teams are going to play harder and come after us.”
McClellan talked about the win over Trinity being a confidence-booster, though he then joked that his players don’t appear to be lacking in confidence.
That appeared to be the case last week, though it fell short of a cockiness that would cause McClellan concern. One intangible is that several key players have had success in other sports. Jackson Mitchell, who scored the tying basket to force overtime against Trinity, is an All-State wide receiver with Division I ability. Price was one of the league’s top pitchers, who helped lead the baseball team to the FCIAC final in May.
Tomorrow night’s game at home against Danbury should be telling. The Hatters are sixth in the state poll.
McClellan on Saturday was preaching perspective.
“You have to come in, show up and play the right way and if you do that things will take care of themselves,” McClellan said. “If we get ahead of ourselves…the way that we’re built, we’re not built with 6-6, 6-8 guys. We could lose to a lot of these teams. If we play like we did in long stretches today than we’ll have a lot of success.”
No. 1 Danbury (6-0, 3-0) vs. No. 8 Brien McMahon (4-2, 2-0). The Hatters and Trinity Catholic were the teams most mentioned as favorites during the preseason. Danbury gets a big test tomorrow at Ridgefield.
No. 2 Ridgefield (4-2, 3-0) vs. No. 7 Norwalk (3-3, 2-1). The Tigers have played well without point guard Luke McGarrity. The Bears right now are looking like a potential sleeper.
No. 3 Trinity Catholic (3-3, 2-1) vs. No. 6 Trumbull (5-1, 2-1). The Crusaders are not going to lose too many games when Dimitry Moise scores 26, as he did against Ridgefield. The Eagles are the early-season surprise.
No. 4 Wilton (4-2, 2-1) vs. No. 5 Fairfield Warde (2-2, 1-0). Don’t read too much into the Warriors’ loss to Norwalk. They are title contenders. It is still too early to get a read on the Mustangs.