Rallying from an eight-point halftime deficit, the Ridgefield High boys basketball team defeated Staples, 50-38, on Tuesday night in Ridgefield.
The victory, their sixth straight, moved the Tigers atop the FCIAC’s Central Division.
“At halftime we were disappointed because I really felt we were getting out-hustled; they wanted to win more than we did,” said Ridgefield head coach Carl Charles. “They were out-working us, they were out-rebounding us, they were out-hustling us, and they were out-executing us.”
All that changed after halftime. But the sudden second-half success wasn’t the result of a new game plan. Basically, the Tigers just played up to their potential.
“We were just kind of executing our stuff better,” said senior swingman Kurt Steidl, who led Ridgefield with 17 points on the night. “We ran the same plays in the second half that we did in the first half, but we just executed much better. Our defense really won us the game tonight.”
In the first half, however, the defense struggled, particularly against Staples captain James Frusciante, who repeatedly displayed an ability to penetrate the paint and make layups. His flashy play helped Staples take a 24-16 halftime lead.
Yet Staples was also aided by some sloppiness on Ridgefield’s part.
“We made 10 turnovers in the first half, and we were shooting the ball at a 50 percent clip from the field,” said Charles. “So you can do the math. That’s 10 points we just threw away. And they were not even pressing us and we were throwing the ball away. We were sloppy.”
With 2:52 left in the first quarter, Frusciante capitalized on Ridgefield’s lack of crispness when he stole the ball and proceeded to break to the hoop and make a terrific reverse layup.
“He (Frusciante) was driving me nuts, with his spinning and reverse layups. My god, [that was] just too much for me to take,” joked Charles.
But in the third quarter, the Tigers began a string of 17 unanswered points that would continue into the fourth quarter. Improved defense was the reason.
“Basically, what we were trying to do is be on the shooters, and get a better rebounding effort,” said Charles. “I thought Frusciante really hurt us in the first half with penetration to the hoop, and we shut that down the second half.”
Four minutes into the third, the Tigers pulled to within one point on a Pat Racy layup. The Tigers’ seven consecutive points seemed to unsettle the Wreckers, who proceeded to miss three straight free throws. Steidl then gave his team a 32-31 lead with 2:35 remaining in the third.
“Kurt’s the leader, and the hard part is, every team is going after him. They’re double-teaming him,” said Charles. “But our other guys are learning that they can score, too, and that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to keep building that … confidence in the other players, so when Kurt dishes off to you, you’ve got to be able to finish it.”
Matt Brennan did just that on the final play of the third quarter, when he made a three-pointer off of a Steidl pass. The buzzer-beater left the Ridgefield crowd on its feet.
“That was huge. That was a nice boost. Every hoop like that is kind of magical, and really gives the team a nice lift,” said Charles. “Because we had less than seven seconds to work, we were trying to set up a screen for Kurt, and Kurt did a nice job of hitting Matt in the corner and Matt Brennan hit that shot for us.”
Brennan’s basket made it 37-31 to finish the third. Ridgefield’s impressive streak of 17 unanswered points continued into the fourth, before Staples scored to make it 41-33. The Tigers then got hot at the end, though, scoring the final seven points of the contest after the Wreckers had closed to within 43-38.
The win was hard fought, and reflected the tough competition the Tigers have recently been facing.
“We’ll go out and scout teams, and the difference is, when they come here, they want to knock us off. They don’t play with that same intensity maybe against somebody else. But here, whoever comes in here, it’s a war every night,” said Charles.