Ridgefield beats Westhill, earns top seed for FCIACs

The penultimate game of the regular season turned out to be historic for the Ridgefield High boys basketball program.

By beating Westhill, 71-52, on Monday night at home, Ridgefield won the FCIAC regular-season title and clinched the top seed for the upcoming conference playoffs. Both of those are firsts for the Tigers, who won a first-ever FCIAC championship last season as the third seed.

After ending the regular season on Wednesday night at home against Fairfield Warde, Ridgefield (16-3 overall, 14-1 FCIAC) will begin defense of its conference title with a quarterfinal game this Saturday against the eighth seed at 7 p.m. at Warde. The Tigers’ opponent will be determined following Wednesday’s final regular-season games.

“We’ve never been the number-one seed and that’s a great accomplishment for our program,” said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan. “I like to say it’s an accomplishment that has happened because of some kids we’ve had in the past and hopefully some kids we have coming up. Our program is in a really good spot and these guys have worked really hard. I’m super proud and happy they’ve accomplished this.”

“I used to be that eight-year-old sitting in the stands saying one day that will be me,” said senior Brenden McNamara. “I’m just trying to make the path to success easier for those kids. When I first walked into this school there were no banners (hanging in the gym), and as it stands right now we've added two. It's not just about this team or last year’s; it’s about the last 10 teams and it's an accumulation of all the work. It's special.”

Monday night’s game was back and forth in the first half before Ridgefield was able to gain separation in the second half.

“In the first half we didn’t play at a pace that we like to play at. We thought we were more equipped to play at a faster pace,” said McClellan. “I thought the kids really executed our defensive game plan better in the second half, which led us to getting easier and better shots.”

James St. Pierre led Ridgefield in scoring with 14 points while McNamara (13) and Chris Knachel (11) also reached double digits. Luke McGarrity, Alex Price, and Cameron Andry added seven points apiece and Jackson Mitchell had six points. Matt Misurelli (three points), Matthew DeLuca (two points), and Ryan Malley (one point) rounded out the scoring.

Westhill won the opening tip and hit a three-pointer from the top of the key 18 seconds into the game. Price answered for Ridgefield by hitting a three with 6:02 remaining in the quarter. McGarrity’s three-pointer off of an assist from Malley gave Ridgefield a 15-11 lead with 2:04 remaining in the quarter.

Andry then knocked down a three with 51 seconds left in the quarter to widen the Ridgefield lead to 18-11. But Westhill was able to make two free throws after being fouled with .4 seconds remaining to end the quarter down 18-13.

The second quarter started off rough for Ridgefield but a late run gave the Tigers a five-point lead at the half. After Andry’s free throw put Ridgefield ahead 19-13, Westhill went on an 11-5 run to tie the score at 24-24.

Knachel made a layup and was fouled, hitting the free throw to give Ridgefield a three-point lead with 1:08 left. Thirty seconds later, McNamara won a scuffle for a rebound down low and scored on the put-back, extending Ridgefield’s lead to 31-26 at halftime.

Ridgefield’s aggressive press in the second half helped the hosts pull away. With 2:10 remaining in the third quarter, St. Pierre hit a trey to make the score 48-37. St. Pierre continued his lights-out shooting by sinking a deep two-pointer on Ridgefield’s next possession, and two layups increased the Tigers’ lead to 54-39 by the end of the quarter.

Three straight steals in the middle of the final quarter put Ridgefield ahead 65-46. When Andry sank a three-pointer with 4:45 remaining the Tigers had a 68-46 lead and McClellan was able to get several younger players into the game.