Cross ousts Ridgefield in Class LL state opener

Cali Stietzel flings a pass while guarded by three Wilbur Cross players during Tuesday night's Class LL girls basketball game in New Haven. Photo: Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticut Media
Cali Stietzel flings a pass while guarded by three Wilbur Cross players during Tuesday night’s Class LL girls basketball game in New Haven. Photo: Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticut Media

Wilbur Cross coach Tyrees Thomas knows exactly what he wants his team to do in the state tournament.

Namely, the same things it did during the regular season.

“Our strength is getting the ball down low and pushing the pace,” Thomas said. “That’s what we stressed in the regular season and that’s what we’re stressing now in the tournament.”

The 11th-seeded Governors heeded their coach’s advice in Tuesday night’s Class LL first-round game against Ridgefield in New Haven. Cross used a combination of defensive intensity, transition breaks, and points in the paint to open an early lead en route to a 60-39 victory over 22nd-seed Ridgefield.

The Governors (17-6) will now play sixth-seed E.O. Smith in a second-round game Friday night (7 p.m.) in Mansfield. Smith routed 27th-seed South Windsor in another first-round game Tuesday.

Against Ridgefield, Cross went on a 14-2 run that turned a tie score into a 20-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. Seven players scored points for the Governors in the opening eight minutes.

“To give up 20 points in the first quarter … that’s hard to overcome when you’re on the road against a good team,” Ridgefield interim coach Anthony Hill said.

“Our defensive intensity definitely set the tone,” Thomas said. “We were a little more physical than Ridgefield and I think that took them back a bit.”

Cross widened its lead to 31-15 at halftime and was ahead 34-18 early in the third quarter when Ridgefield showed some spark. A pair of 3-pointers from Kate Wagner helped the Tigers close within 35-24 with just under five minutes left.

But Cross weathered the run, took a 47-34 lead into the final quarter, and then pulled away for the 21-point victory.

“I talked to the Career coach and got a little background on Ridgefield,” Thomas said. “He told me they like to push the pace and take a lot of threes, so in practice we worked on getting out on the shooters and putting pressure on the ball and making them drive to the hole.”

“They were tough and they played hard for 32 minutes,” Hill said about the Governors. “They’re well deserving of their record.”

Notes: Kandle Everette and Kayla Jefferson each scored 11 points for Cross. April Artis and Rayne Durant added nine points apiece.

Katie Flynn led Ridgefield with 10 points. Wagner added six points for the Tigers, who ended the season with a 12-10 record.

“This is a young team and I’m proud of their effort,” said Hill about Ridgefield, which didn’t have any seniors on its roster. “The future is very bright for this program.”

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