The new darling team in the FCIAC has a 9-5 record, is tied for the sixth place in the standings and 2-3 against opponents it is either behind or tied with.
So why is everyone all of a sudden so hot for the Ridgefield Tigers?
Much has to do with the inability of most teams to put consistent performances together back to back, which means their view can change drastically on a game to game basis. You are as good as your last win and as bad as your latest loss. And winning streaks have been of short duration for all but a handful of teams.
As for the Tigers, they are riding a three-game winning streak, the latest a 10-point win over rival Wilton, even though the Warriors were missing Jack Williams and got limited time from Matt Kronenberg. They are their two best players. Still, it was a key building-block victory.
Second, the Wilton game saw the return of Brenden McNamara, the 6-5 swingman who was leading the Tigers is scoring before suffering a broken bone in his foot that caused him to miss six games. Height is a rare commodity in the league this season; quality size even rarer. Coupled with 6-7 center Nick Laudati, the Tigers present matchup problems for teams that rely predominantly on 3-point shooting and struggle on the boards.
Third, the Tigers in recent years have developed a reputation for being one of the most fundamentally sound programs. It started under former coach Carl Charles and has continued with current leader Andrew McClellan. Even in years when they were less talented, Ridgefield beat more skilled opponents by playing good defense and making fewer mistakes.
Finally, in a season with a continued downswing in offensive talent, the Tigers match up with most everyone.
Guard play will likely be the key to the Tigers’ long-term success. McNamara is comfortable playing away from the basket. James St. Pierre hit four first-half 3-point shots against Wilton, which opened the paint for Laudati. And while Chris Longo needed a little time for his body to heal after helping the Tigers to the Class LL football championship and doesn’t have to score like he did a year ago, he can still take over games, as he did in the final minutes against Wilton.
Unlike many teams, McClellan also has some quality depth. And four of his starters are seniors.
Over the weekend, two league coaches said they thought Ridgefield might now be the favorite in the conference. That may be swinging the needle a little too far, especially based on the first six weeks.
But if McNamara remains healthy, the Tigers definitely have the ability to compete for the title.
What To Make Of Trinity Catholic?
While on the subject of opinions, it is curious to see the disparity in how Trinity Catholic is viewed by opponents and Mike Walsh, the team’s coach. There are those who feel the Crusaders have the best talent in the league and should be better than 6-5 in the conference and scrambling for a playoff spot.
Walsh has heard the talk and remains insistent that Trinity has the potential to contend but has not been able to overcome what he sees as obstacles: defensive struggles, a lack of chemistry and a group still learning how to win.
The answer right now is probably somewhere in the middle. With the athletic ability of Contavio Dutreil and Dimitry Moise, the Crusaders have two players who should be making a bigger impact on games more consistently. Few have answers for them close to the basket.
Trinity only has one senior who plays regularly, and so far no player has demonstrated the willingness to step up during times of trouble. Sometimes the words of a teammate can carry equal or even more weight than those from a coach.
Perhaps those of us who anointed the Crusaders as a preseason favorite overestimated them. The pieces are there to compete, but they still should be better than tied for the seventh-best record in the FCIAC.
In Praise Of The Lair And Tribe
A quick show of respect to the student fan bases at Ridgefield (the Tiger’s Lair) and Wilton (the Warrior Tribe). Each filled a section of bleachers for last Wednesday night’s game. At a time when attendance is down in most sports, they provided a great backdrop for a game between the rival towns.
This was not a one-night effort: right now the Tribe and the Lair are the best two student sections for basketball in the league. Wilton has been sending good crowds to road games as well.
No. 1 Trumbull (13-1, 9-1) vs. No. 8 Trinity Catholic (9-5, 6-5). People keep waiting for the Eagles to tumble. It hasn’t happened yet. They go back to back with Wilton and Warde this week.
No. 2 Fairfield Warde (12-2, 8-2) vs. No. 7 Brien McMahon (10-4, 6-4). The Mustangs, as coach Ryan Swaller said, need to limit in-game lapses. The Senators very quietly have made a run up the standings.
No. 3 Wilton (11-2, 8-2) vs. No. 6 Darien (8-6, 7-4). The Warriors expectedly have been a different team since the injuries to Jack Williams and Matt Kronenberg. The Blue Wave have lost three of four but have a very favorable remaining schedule.
No. 4 Danbury (11-4, 8-3) vs. No. 5 Ridgefield (9-5, 6-4). Four of the Hatters’ five remaining games are against playoff contenders. Will the Tigers build on their favored status?