A first: Ridgefield, Wilton play for FCIAC hoop title

Since joining the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference together back in 1971, Ridgefield and Wilton have combined to win league titles in nearly every sport.

But not boys basketball.

Through their first 45 seasons in the FCIAC, neither Ridgefield nor Wilton has been able to hoist a boys basketball championship plaque. Neither team has even made it to a championship game.

That all changes tonight. Ridgefield and Wilton, neighboring towns and arch-rivals, meet in the conference finals at 7 p.m. inside Fairfield University's Alumni Hall.

The contest will be broadcast live on the HAN Network, beginning with a pre-game show at 6:30. To watch, click here.

Ridgefield and Wilton, programs once regarded as roadkill for city teams, playing each other for the title. Live long enough and, yes, you can see some strange stuff.

They got to tonight's finals with semifinal triumphs Tuesday night at Fairfield Warde. Fifth-seed Wilton had the more straightforward path, disposing of top-seed Trumbull, 72-66. Third-seed Ridgefield took a roundabout route, getting past seventh-seed Danbury, 67-63, in double overtime thanks to late heroics from senior point guard Zach Esemplare.

They met during the regular season, with Ridgefield earning a 69-59 victory at home on Feb. 2. Wilton, however, was dealing with injuries: Senior Jack Williams was sidelined, and classmate Matt Kronenberg played briefly and scored two points. Williams and Kronenberg are Wilton's top-two offensive weapons.

Ridgefield was not fully healthy, either: Leading scorer Brenden McNamara, a 6'5" junior, was playing for the first time after missing several weeks due to a foot injury. McNamara finished with seven points, less than half of his regular output.

Williams, meanwhile, is still dealing with a nagging knee injury. The 6'1" senior scored 18 points before leaving in the third quarter of Wilton's semifinal win over Trumbull. Williams returned in the fourth quarter but didn't score again.

Kronenberg (10 points in the semifinal) is healthy, and he could be a factor tonight — especially if Williams is limited — with his outside shooting. In addition to Kronenberg, a deep Wilton team has several other players capable of big performances. The group includes senior guards Drew Connolly (team-high 19 points against Trumbull) and Sean Breslin; senior forward (and defensive stalwart) Jack Wood; junior guard Kyle Maatallah; junior forwards Kyle Shifrin and Robbie Hermann; and sophomore guard Nick Kronenberg.

With McNamara and 6'8" senior center Nick Laudati, Ridgefield has two players who could thrive inside against the smaller Warriors. That might force Wilton to focus on interior defense and lead to open outside shots for Ridgefield's Zach Esemplare, Joe Newborn, Chris Longo, Alex Price, James St. Pierre, and Luke McGarrity, all off whom can heat up from three-point range. St. Pierre sank five three-pointers and had a career-high 15 points in the Tigers' regular-season win over Wilton.

But if pre-determining which player will have the most impact tonight is a fool's errand, one forecast is a guarantee: The FCIAC will have a first-time boys basketball champion. And it will be either Ridgefield or Wilton.