WESTPORT — The Staples girls basketball team got a taste tonight of how demanding a quarterfinal game in the FCIAC Tournament could prove. Ridgefield, on the fringe of one of the final berths and an eight seed no one would treasure drawing, held a lead on the Wreckers until the final seconds of the third quarter.
Then Staples, which has the inside track on the top seed, finally tapped its defensive pressure, got a strong finish from Arianna Gerig and came away with a 44-32 home win.
“Ridgefield could take out anyone any night,” said Gerig, who scored half of her 18 points in the final quarter, seven from the foul line. “This could be one and eight. It was a great test and it shows on any night anything can happen and we just have to continue to play our game and come out with energy and hustle and we will be OK.”
In an incredibly competitive start — neither team led by more than four points for nearly 25 minutes — the Tigers (11-6, 7-6 FCIAC), who started the night tied for the final spot, took a 30-26 lead with 4:01 left in the third after a brilliant sequence by Cali Stietzel, who scored eight points and played a strong game.
Stietzel first turned a steal into a layup, then hit an open 3-point shot.
The Wreckers (15-2, 12-1), whose depth allows defensive pressure to be one of their greatest strengths, started forcing turnovers, gaining steals and getting easy baskets or to the foul line.
Ridgefield was held to just one basket over the final 12 minutes and was shut out for the final five.
“It’s nice to have a girl like Arianna who can do that,” Staples coach Paco Fabian said. “She took over the game scoring in the fourth quarter. And our defensive pressure was a lot better in the fourth quarter. I give a lot of credit to Ridgefield. They played a really good game. If they get in the tournament they’re a scary team. Rob coached a fantastic game.”
Gerig, held to five points in the first half, is the first to testify how strong execution without the ball gives her better opportunities with it.
“We say every time we walk into our locker room our offense comes from our defense,” Gerig said. “When we get stops and we get steals, that’s when the energy really gets high and we can convert those defensive stops into baskets. I have to give a lot of credit to Ridgefield, they are a great team, really well coached. They had a lot of nice ball pressure on me. On the inside I wasn’t necessarily getting the shots I wanted. In the fourth quarter I brushed that aside and just focused on my game and the team.”
Marley Lopez-Paul and Marisa Shorrock each scored seven points for the Wreckers, who hold a one game lead over Trumbull for first place with three to play. Their lone league loss was to the Eagles.
“We have so many different girls who play roles,” Fabian said. “Marisa is like our quarterback. Abby (Carter) is our tough fullback, grinder. She got some huge rebounds tonight and she was probably the smallest girl on the floor. Kat (Cozzi) and Nicole (Holmes) played amazing defense, Marley is our post presence and Ari is our all-around everything. We have a lot of girls playing roles and it really helps.”
The Tigers have an early-season win over NFA, but do not yet have a victory over any team ahead of them in the league standings, though they have been competitive and often difficult to put away.
“You can’t score two points in the fourth quarter against the No. 2 team in the state and expect to win,” Ridgefield coach Rob Coloney said. “Their defense was exceptional in the second half. I thought our kids played really, really hard, they just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. You are not going to win scoring 32 points and you certainly aren’t going to win scoring two points in eight minutes.”
The Tigers first have to figure out a way into the league playoffs — they have control over their destiny with three final wins — because tonight proved what is possible if they get there.
“We don’t score enough points and I need to figure out why,” Coloney said. “We have the athletes who can score. That’s been our bugaboo all year. We’re not scoring enough points. To hold Staples to 44 is exceptional. We played great defense. We need to do a better job — myself most — of figuring out the offensive end of it.”