Boys hoop: Ridgefield edges Warde, advances to FCIAC semis

A game of runs was ultimately won on an inbounds play

Nick Laudati's layup as time expired gave the Ridgefield High boys basketball team a 63-61 victory over sixth-seed Fairfield Warde in an FCIAC quarterfinal game Saturday at Warde.

The third-seeded Tigers (15-6) will now play seventh-seed Danbury in the semifinals on Tuesday night at Fairfield Warde. The winner advances to the conference championship game next Thursday night (March 2) at 7 at Warde.

With the score tied 61-61 and 10 seconds left in Saturday's quarterfinal, Ridgefield's Brenden McNamara looked to send an inbounds pass to point guard Zach Esemplare. But with Esemplare covered, McNamara passed to Chris Longo, who promptly returned the ball to McNamara. McNamara then dribbled down the court, spotted a mismatch inside, and fed the 6'7" Laudati for the game-winning basket.

"I'll be honest with you, when I was dribbling it up I was planning on just shooting it," said McNamara. "But then I saw Nicky had a mismatch down low and he was calling for it. I trust him in the post and I just threw it in and he did the rest."

"I have to give a ton of credit to B-Mac (McNamara)," said Laudati. "He pushed the ball up the court, got through their press-breaker. He looked, saw that I had a size mismatch, and fed me in the post. I'm just glad it went in."

Ridgefield played its best basketball of the season in the second quarter. Down 25-18 with just over four minutes left in the period, the Tigers embarked on an 18-0 run. Longo's three-pointer tied the score, and Ridgefield added 11 more unanswered points to take a 36-25 halftime lead.

Warde responded in the third quarter and got within one point, 38-37, with just over four minutes left on J.J. Conway's three-pointer from the top of the key. Following a timeout, Ridgefield pushed its lead to 46-39 before Warde ended the period with a 6-0 run to trail by one point entering the final eight minutes.

The Tigers opened the fourth quarter on a 12-6 run to go ahead 58-51 with 1:17 to play. Wade's Sean Conway then hit a trey to make the score 58-54, and Warde called a timeout.

After a Ridgefield turnover and a Warde miss on a three-pointer, McNamara was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one. Jackson Longley came down and sank a three-pointer with 43 seconds left to bring Warde within one at 58-57.

Rashad Butler then fouled Esemplare, who hit two free throws to give the Tigers a 60-57 lead with 32 seconds left.

J.J. Conway drove for a layup to make it a one-point game again with 19 seconds remaining, and Joe Newborn sank one of two foul shots to put Ridgefield in front, 61-59. J.J. Conway then drove down the lane again and was fouled on a layup attempt by McNamara with 10 seconds to play. Conway hit both clutch free throws to tie the game at 61-61.

"I thought, do we call a timeout or do we not call a timeout?" said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan. "Sometimes when you set up a play it overcomplicates things. The ball didn't get into Zach (Esemplare), and then you have McNamara — six-foot five — bringing the ball up the floor and making a play for somebody else and Nicky (Laudati) finished. Really proud and happy for them."

McNamara finished with 19 points (11 in the second quarter) to pace Ridgefield. Longo added 16 points and Newborn had 11 points. Laudati contributed seven points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.