This game looked as though it was going to come down to the final shot.
With just under six minutes remaining, the Ridgefield High boys basketball team was trailing Bridgeport Central, 61-58, in a back-and-forth thriller Tuesday night. A few minutes later, however, Ridgefield was ahead by eight points and on its way to a 78-70 triumph.
An 11-0 run by the Tigers proved decisive as the hosts posted their seventh straight victory, remaining unbeaten in the FCIAC (8-0) and improving to 10-2 overall.
Ridgefield led 35-34 at the half but was down 56-54 going into the fourth quarter. Brenden McNamara's free throw with 6:17 left got Ridgefield within 61-59 and started the 11-point surge, which also included three-pointers from Alex Price and James St. Pierre. St. Pierre capped the run with a steal and a layup to put the Tigers in front, 69-61, with about 4:30 to play.
Ridgefield kept Central at bay from there, controlling the ball for the final 64 seconds as Central — down 78-70 at that point — chose not to foul.
“We’re a second-half team," said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan. "We made some adjustments. When my guys get themselves organized and in the right spot we have enough skill that we can get great shots or layups.
"In the first half it looked like we weren’t sure who was taking the ball out or who was going to be where," continued McClellan. "We talked about it at halftime and it didn’t happen in the second half at all and we were able to get easy baskets.”
Ridgefield had five players score in double digits. McNamara and Jackson Mitchell each had 17 points, while St. Pierre added 15 points, Chris Knachel had 12 points, and Price contributed 10 points. Also scoring for the Tigers were Ryan Malley with five points and Matt DeLuca with two points.
In his best game this season, Mitchell played like a young Karl Malone. In addition to his 17 points, the 6'2" junior forward also pulled down 14 rebounds and dominated in the paint.
“My guys were finding me and I was open under the basket and I knew they would make good passes,” said Mitchell after the game.
Ridgefield's team mentality is one of the things McClellan is most proud of. “We always seem to have seven or eight guys who score for us and we almost always have four or five in double figures, which is a rarity in high school basketball."
Ridgefield’s offensive efficiency was all the more impressive given that Central ran a press all game. The high pressure caused some turnovers for the Tigers and forced them to play at a faster pace.
“When a team pressures you like that I believe you have to go try to score off it, not get [the ball] across half court and set back up," said McClellan. "We have a lot of skill this year so it benefits us to push the pace a little bit."
Central opened the game with a 4-0 run before Knachel was able to put Ridgefield on the board by hitting two free throws. The Tigers took their first lead of the game with 4:38 left in the quarter, as Knachel hit a three-pointer off an assist by Malley to make the score 9-8.
After a trey from Malley and four points from McNamara, Ridgefield took a 16-10 lead into the final minute of the quarter. But Central rallied to score six points, including a basket with under five seconds left that tied the game at 16-16.
After getting two fouls in the first quarter, McNamara sat on the bench for nearly the first seven minutes of the second period. But led by Mitchell, the Tigers weren't fazed, taking a 35-34 lead at halftime.
Central scored five straight points to open the half, but Ridgefield responded to go ahead 51-46. Central stormed back to tie the game at 54-54 before making a layup with under two seconds left to take a 56-54 lead into the last quarter.