NEW CANAAN — To be the best you have to beat the best. Every athlete has been provided this wisdom by a coach at some point in their life, or at least heard it in a really bad sports movie.
For the last four years, Ridgefield has been the standard for FCIAC boys basketball, winning three titles. And this year the Tigers won their first seven games to build a 21-game streak.
Last night, the Tigers traveled to New Canaan and challenged the Rams, who with validity believe they check each box needed to win a championship, to indeed prove they were the better team.
While Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan has no doubt watched tape of the game and found moments off substandard play, by and large there will be few causes of displeasure. There were the trademarks: strong defense, smart decision making, big shots.
If this were a theatrical production, the Tigers would have performed an act and nodded their heads at the Rams, their way of asking ‘Can you match or top this?’
And each time in the late stages, the Rams did just that, coming away with a hard-earned 64-59 double overtime win that in the course of 48 hours gave them tiebreaking edges over Ridgefield and Staples, as the end of the regular season is now in sight.
Blake Wilson hit a 3-point shot with 40 seconds left in regulation to send the game into the first overtime. Christian Sweeney, the Rams’ Swiss army knife, as always did a little bit of everything, including making the decisive steal at the end of the second overtime.
Melzer called on nine players to step up, and each responded.
“Our depth helped us out,” Melzer said. “The guys off the bench contributed once again.”
Ridgefield’s eight point win over rival Wilton had been its closest game so far. Most have been blowouts. There were no real glaring mistakes over the final 10 minutes last night, but maybe the novelty of having “must” possessions took a toll.
“This year, we’ve had a lot of large-margin victories,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “So these guys haven’t been in those situations and that hurt us tonight.”
If the Rams had lost a close game, few would think any less of them or their chances to hang a banner next to the dusty one from 1969. Still, there was a sense of urgency, especially on the defensive end, that gave the impression the players felt they needed a win over the team that knocked them out of the playoffs the past two years for validation.
“This is what you live for,” New Canaan point guard Will Bozzella said. “The season is too short, you don’t get a lot of these games and when you do you have to enjoy it. Twelve games, love every minute of it.”
Melzer has guided the program past self satisfaction for a big regular-season win like this. He and his players know now is the time for the next step in the grand scheme.
Said Melzer, I’m proud of these guys but we’ve got bigger goals and more things to accomplish.”