Murph's Turf: 17 Ridgefield sports moments from 2017

For Ridgefield sports, 2017 was full of memorable moments. Here are 17 of them, in mostly chronological order.

1. Hoop, there it is: When the Ridgefield High boys basketball team won the conference championship for the first time in program history, a number of RHS graduates — those who remembered the lean times of decades past — reached out with emails expressing astonishment and disbelief. But this was no misprint. The Tigers’ 68-64 victory over arch-rival Wilton at a sold-out Alumni Hall on the Fairfield University campus was not only real, but also among the most notable breakthroughs in the history of RHS sports.

2. Ice capades: A few weeks after that historic triumph came another: Scoring three goals in both the first and third periods, the Ridgefield boys hockey team defeated Northwest Catholic, 6-2, to win a first-ever Division I state championship. The victory — which followed a win in the FCIAC finals — completed the best year in program history, as the Tigers went 24-2-0 and finished atop the state polls.

3. Courting a different message: During their team’s season-opening match against Trumbull, several Ridgefield girls tennis players made good use of some chalk that was left at the RHS courts. Covering the spot where a swastika and a racial slur had been scratched into the court surface just a few days before, they drew neon-colored images and words expressing peace and unity.

4. Going yard to win a title: Eschewing small ball, the Ridgefield Little League 11/12-year-old All-Stars bashed their way to the District 1 championship for the first time since 2007. Over the course of six tournament games, Ridgefield blasted 18 homers, including three in the title game victory.

5. Day with Bernie: Former New York Yankee star Bernie Williams spent nearly all of July 29 in Ridgefield. After playing in a charity softball game with fellow former Yankees Mariano Rivera and David Cone, Williams and his band performed at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Both events were spurred by Williams’ desire to raise awareness for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

6. Hunter on the hunt: Will Hunter didn’t make the RHS boys soccer team last fall — and that was good news for Fairfield County teenagers who like to play eSports. Hunter used his down time to create an FCIAC club league that culminated in the first-ever eSports conference championship last June.

7. Golden comeback: Figure skater Lauren Toia qualified for the previous State Games of America back in 2015. But shortly before the competition, she suffered a spontaneuous brain hemorraghe that required therapy for her to relearn how to walk and talk. Toia gradually worked her way back onto the ice and qualified for the 2017 State Games of America, winning a gold medal in the Pre-Juvenile Division.

8. Stake in the Belmont: Brian Spearman’s cell phone began to fill rapidly with calls and text messages on a Saturday afternoon in June. Those trying to get in touch had just spotted Spearman standing on the podium shortly after Tapwrit’s victory in the Belmont Stakes. Spearman didn’t get escorted away by security; as the chairman and an equity partner at Eclipse Throughbred Partners (one of Tapwrit’s three ownership groups), he was cleared to celebrate.

9. Too young to vote, but not to be champion: All the previous winners of the women’s club championship at the Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury were at least 30 years old. At age 14, Ridgefielder Mia Scarpati wasn’t even halfway there when she won three matches to become the newest club champ last summer.

10. Half gets a twist: In its 41st year, the Ridgefield Pamby Half Marathon underwent a cosmetic procedure. New race directors opted to move the start and finish of the 13.1-mile race, producing a vastly different experience for race veterans. Instead of ending the race in anonymity on Market Street, runners finished at the Boys and Girls Club, where a tent allowed them to join family and friends in eating sliders and drinking Palm Beer. Expect a bigger field next fall.

11. Streak continues: As part of their rivalry with Wilton, Ridgefield High students are fond of bringing up football. For at least another year, the trash talking can continue. With a 17-3 triumph this fall, Ridgefield extended its unbeaten run over Wilton to 20 games (19-0-1) over 24 years. Wilton’s last victory came in 1993, before any of the current RHS students were born.

12. Fans want Kynast: Now a freshman at Stanford, Kaitlyn Kynast was the most sought-after female rowing recruit in the country during her senior year at Ridgefield High. A different set of admirers voiced their admiration through online votes, enabling Kynast to win the 2017 Fan’s Choice Award for USRowing’s Junior Athlete of the Year.

13. All-Stating her case: Any one who wants to see the best female athlete in Ridgefield High history still has a few months to do so. Caroline Curnal, a senior at RHS, was named to All-State teams in three different sports (basketball, lacrosse, volleyball) in 2017, an accomplishment which might not ever be equaled at the high school.

14. Creating a recruiting stir: As the 2017 season progressed, an increasing number of NCAA college coaches began inquiring about Ridgefield High junior Jackson Mitchell. An athletic 6’2”, 215-pound receiver and linebacker, Mitchell caught a program-record 80 passes for 1,124 yards and 13 touchdowns. On defense, Mitchell made 38 tackles (19 solo), recording two sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. For his efforts, Mitchell was recently named to the 25-player All-State overall first team.

15. Long time coming: Despite a consistent pattern of success (including several conference championships), the Ridgefield High girls soccer team entered 2017 still looking for a first-ever state title. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, they got it. After losing in the Class LL finals the last two seasons, the Tigers beat Staples, 2-0, to finally become state champs.

16. JT on the A-AT: From 1982 through 1986, three Ridgefield High boys soccer players (Guy Welton, Cliff Onalfo, Curt Onalfo) were named to All-American teams. Following a 31-year break, the Tigers now have a fourth player to earn that honor. Senior striker JT Siano, who scored 21 goals in 18 games this fall, capped a post-season full of honors (All-FCIAC, All-State, All-New England) by being chosen to the United Soccer Coaches 2017 High School All-America team.

17. Olympics part deux: Back in 2014, Ridgefielders felt a jolt of civic pride when Tucker West was named to the US Olympic luge team for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Japan. The signs, banners and viewing parties can resume this February, when West competes in the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Eleventh in the current world points rankings, West will look to become the first American male to win an individual medal. If so, maybe West Mountain Road — where he grew up and learned the sport on a homemade luge course — should be re-christened Tucker West Mountain Road.