Boys hoop preview: Ridgefield primed for more success
For the Ridgefield boys basketball program, this is a golden era.
Two seasons after winning a first-ever FCIAC title, the Tigers added a second conference championship in three years last March, rallying to beat Danbury in the finals. Ridgefield is now 43-13 against FCIAC opponents since 2016-17 (including a 7-1 record in playoff games) and 50-19 overall.
Another good season beckons this winter. Even though the Tigers lost one of the best players in school history — All-FCIAC and All-State guard James St. Pierre — to graduation, they are among the favorites to win the conference championship.
“The seniors have a positive confidence,” said Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan, whose team plays its season opener Saturday night at home against Fairfield Prep. “They aren’t cocky, but they know what they are capable of doing.”
St. Pierre averaged 27 points per game last season, and the Tigers don’t have anyone who can single-handedly replace that production.
“He [St. Pierre] led us in scoring every single game,” McClellan said. “We’ll have to rely on a lot more balance this year, but I think there are a bunch of people ready to step up.”
The group includes senior tri-captains Luke McGarrity, Chris Knachel and Johnny Briody and classmate Matt DeLuca. All four were primary contributors last season, combining for slightly more than 30 points a game.
Knachel, a 6-foot-1 forward, is the top returning scorer after averaging 10 points in 2018-19. “He’s probably our best defensive player; he drew around 25 charging fouls,” McClellan said. “He’s a three-year varsity guy with a high IQ and he’s mentally tough. The bigger the game, the better Chris plays.”
McGarrity has committed to play Division III basketball at Union College, and the 6-1 senior will start at point guard for Ridgefield this season. “Luke provides tons of experience and is a great decision maker,” McClellan said. “We’re just hoping he can stay healthy ... he missed parts of the last two seasons due to injuries.”
A 5-11 shooting guard, Briody made 44% of his three-point shots last year. “He is a great three-point shooter, and he’ll be another really tough defender,” McClellan said. “Johnny’s also our most boisterous leader.”
Better known as a dominant pitcher on the Ridgefield baseball team, the 6-4 DeLuca became a big contributor on the basketball court last season, averaging 6.5 points per game and grabbing bunches of rebounds. “He had a really strong second half after we lost [starting center] Derek Szpakowski to injury,” McClellan said. “Matt provides rebounding and athleticism and he can also score points.”
Another senior, 6-2 guard James Rush, is back after missing all but two games last winter due to a torn ACL. “He’s a good playmaker and scorer,” McClellan said. “He will either start or come off the bench, depending on who we are playing.”
Amos Grey, a 6-0 junior point guard, could also make some starts for the Tigers. “Amos is probably our most athletic player on the perimeter,” McClellan said.
Two of Ridgefield’s big men — Szpakowski, a 6-3 senior, and 6-5 junior Emmett O’Malley — are currently sidelined with injuries. McClellan is hopeful that both can return either in January or early February. “If we get them back it will be a big help,” McClellan said. “They make us a lot tougher inside.”
Senior guard Drew Gordillo should be one of the first players off the bench, and classmate Charlie Mueller, juniors Matt Eiben and Jason Hartnett, and sophomore Matt Knachel could also contribute.
“I think we can be good,” McClellan said. “How good remains to be seen, but I like the talent and work ethic we have.”