The Danbury boys basketball team doesn’t need to look too far into its past to see what a dominating defense can do.
The Hatters are trying to return to the identity that delivered a rare FCIAC title last season, and it’s been a work in progress in 2018-19. But Monday they turned up the heat for three quarters against one of their top rivals in what was likely a playoff preview.
Danbury got balanced scoring from its starting lineup, and a stifling defensive effort built a comfortable lead. Senior point guard Javon Hernandez then made several key steals late to preserve a 62-55 win over Ridgefield.
The Hatters (5-2) led 40-25 late in the third quarter before the game sped up and Ridgefield staged a rally. The Tigers pulled to within a single possession twice — the first coming on a 3-pointer from Cameron Andry with 1:45 left to make it 53-51.
The Hatters didn’t turn the ball over down the stretch, though, and sank enough free throws to cancel out any more Ridgefield buckets.
James St. Pierre had 21 points for Ridgefield, which was missing a key player in junior guard Luke McGarrity. St. Pierre made a free throw to pull his team within 55-52 with 1:16 left, but the Tigers were outscored, 7-3, the rest of the way.
Ridgefield has now lost three straight, albeit to strong Division I teams in Bassick, Trumbull, and Danbury.
“We just didn’t play well enough to win tonight. (Danbury) played better than us tonight,” said Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan. “We’re missing a starter and you can’t play a B game and beat Danbury in their place.”
Notes: Chris Knachel and Andry each finished with nine points for Ridgefield. Derek Szpakowski added six points and Matt DeLuca had five points. Johann Britto (three points) and Ryan Garson (two points) also scored for the Tigers.
Hernandez scored 18 points and Burton added 16 for the Hatters. Keyon Moore (10) and Jah Joyner (11) were also in double figures.
Both teams struggled from the foul line as the Tigers went 14-for-23 and the Hatters went 19-for-38.
“The story of our losses right now are missed free throws and missed offensive opportunities,” McClellan said.