Price's late three lifts Ridgefield past New Canaan
On paper, a matchup between the FCIAC’s top-ranked Ridgefield High boys basketball team and four-win New Canaan wouldn’t seem like much of a contest.
Monday night’s game, however, once again showed why basketball is not played on paper.
Alex Price’s clutch three-pointer gave Ridgefield a 56-54 lead with 20 seconds left in the game and the Tigers hung on for dear life from there, escaping the New Canaan High gym with a thrilling 59-56 win over the Rams.
“Alex has made huge shots for us this year down the stretch,” said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan. “We knew New Canaan would have a strategy to limit our two leading scorers, Brenden McNamara and James St. Pierre, so other people have to step up.”
McNamara led all scorers with 21 points, 14 of which came in the second half. Price finished with eight points and Luke McGarrity and Jackson Mitchell added seven each for Ridgefield (14-3, 12-1 FCIAC), which won its fourth straight game to remain on top of the conference standings with three games left.
Meanwhile the Rams — who led by as many as five points three different times in the fourth quarter —dropped their fourth consecutive contest. Ben Sarda led New Canaan (4-13, 1-12 FCIAC) with a career-high 18 points. Alex Gibbens added 12 points and Ryan McAleer scored five for the Rams, who were eliminated from contention for a state playoff berth with the loss.
After Price’s three, New Canaan had a chance to tie or retake the lead but Sarda’s layup attempt was blocked. McNamara grabbed the loose ball and was fouled with 8.6 seconds left. The 6’5” senior sank both free throws to extend the Ridgefield lead to 58-54.
New Canaan got back to within one possession after Stephen Wronski’s put-back made it 58-56 with 2.6 seconds remaining. Off the inbound pass the Rams immediately fouled Mitchell, who made one of two free throws, giving Ridgefield a 59-56 lead with 1.8 to go. New Canaan was unable to get a Hail Mary shot off before the final buzzer sounded, ending the game.
“I can’t ever remember being more proud of my team in a loss than I was tonight,” said New Canaan head coach Danny Melzer said. “We took the defending FCIAC champion and number-one league seed to the brink. Those dudes [the Tigers] are on the bus running out of here with a victory. They are so happy they won this game because we deserved to win tonight and we came up just one play short.”
Ridgefield scored the first five points of the contest, but New Canaan — as it did all night — came back strong, going on a 10-0 run over the next two minutes and 20 seconds to take a 10-5 lead with 3:56 left in the first. The Tigers countered by closing the quarter with a 9-0 run and headed into the second ahead 14-10.
A McGarrity basket extended that lead to 16-10, and after Matthew DeLuca hit a shot the Tigers had their biggest advantage of the game, 18-10, with 6:45 left in the half.
New Canaan clawed back on a three by Sarda and a driving layup by Luke Rwambuya to cut the score to 18-15 with 5:22 left in the second. Ridgefield ended the quarter by outscoring New Canaan, 7-5, and headed into halftime up 25-20.
Alex Gibbens opened the third quarter by draining back-to-back threes to give the Rams their first lead since the opening quarter, 26-25. A three from senior co-captain Alex Galvan extended the New Canaan lead to 29-25 with 5:40 to go in the third.
The Tigers came back to tie things up at 29, but New Canaan went back in front, 32-29, after a traditional three-point play from Gibbens with 4:20 remaining in the quarter. New Canaan went up by as many as five points twice in the third quarter, only to see the Tigers — led by McNamara, who scored all seven of his third-quarter points in the final two minutes — cut the Rams' lead to 43-41 heading into the fourth.
New Canaan had fourth-quarter leads of 46-41, 48-43, and 50-45 but couldn’t put the Tigers away. McGarrity hit a huge three to trim New Canaan’s advantage to 50-48 with 5:31 left in the game. Cam Nelson hit a pair of foul shots to put New Canaan back up by four, but Ridgefield scored the next five points to go ahead 53-52 with 3:06 on the clock.
McAleer’s driving layup gave New Canaan its final lead of the game, 54-53, with 1:28 left, setting the stage for Price’s heroics.
“I don’t think we took them lightly,” said McClellan. “We don’t just roll out there and beat teams like this. New Canaan totally outplayed us for 28 or 29 minutes. I’m very proud of our fight. We never gave up and probably made more plays than them down the stretch. It’s probably because we’ve been in those situations a little bit more than them, but they outplayed us for most of the game.”