Ridgefield edges Darien to stay unbeaten in FCIAC

Call them the Cardiac Cats.

Continuing its season-long pattern of finding ways to win, the host Ridgefield High boys basketball team defeated Darien, 62-60, on Friday night in thriller that featured four lead changes in the final two minutes and a heart-stopping conclusion.

The win was the eighth straight for the Tigers, who are now 10-2 overall and 9-0 in the FCIAC.

With Darien ahead 56-55 and under two minutes to play, Ridgefield's James St. Pierre drove to the basket and was fouled. St. Pierre hit one of the free throws, tying the score with 1:49

After Darien sank two free throws to go ahead, 58-56, Ridgefield senior Alex Price hit a clutch three-pointer to give the Tigers a 59-58 lead just as the clock hit the 1:30 mark. Darien’s Justin Jordan, who vexed the Tigers all night and finished with a game-high 33 points, then drove to the hoop and scored on a contested layup.

Off a post-up play, Brenden McNamara nailed a shot with 50 seconds remaining to give Ridgefield a 61-60 lead. Darien’s ensuing possession resulted in a turnover when a pass was thrown over the intended target’s head and out of bounds with 30.9 seconds left.

Ridgefield was able to shave nine seconds off the clock before St. Pierre was fouled. St. Pierre made the first free throw but missed the second, leaving Ridgefield in front, 62-60, with 21.5 seconds remaining. Darien then moved the ball past half court before calling a timeout with just 13.6 seconds to go.

After inbounding the ball, Darien launched a three-point shot that hit off the rim. The Blue Wave got the rebound and fed the ball to Jordan, who fired a three-pointer that also missed as time expired.

“We made a little bit of an adjustment," said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan about his team's final defensive sequences. "Justin Jordan had a great night; we don’t normally ever give up that many points to one player. So we had the same message the last three trips down the floor: Don’t let him beat us. And he did two times.

"But like what’s happened a few times this year, we seem to make a play when we need to make a play," continued McClellan. "We finished out that last possession ... like we say all the time, one stop, all we need is one stop, and we finally got that one stop."

The win was all the more impressive for the Tigers considering they trailed 12-2 with 2:11 remaining in the opening quarter. Ridgefield rallied to tie the score at 24-24 at the end of the first half.

“I think Darien plays a really physical, grind-it-out style of play," said McClellan when asked about his team's sluggish start. "We want to play a little more up and down. But they grabbed control of the tempo and we played at their tempo, certainly through the first half. I thought the second half was more our tempo but they were still able to execute on the offensive end to keep themselves in the game or take the lead."

McNamara led the scoring for Ridgefield with 21 points, and St. Pierre also reached double digits with 17 points. Chris Knachel added nine points, while Price had seven points and Jackson Mitchell contributed six points. Matt Misurelli rounded out the scoring with two points.

Clutch threes by McNamara and Price gave Ridgefield a 36-31 lead with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter, but Darien (3-8 overall) responded with a 7-2 run to tie the game at 38-38 going into the final period.

Just nine seconds into the fourth quarter, McNamara gave Ridgefield a 40-38 lead. Darien answered with a three-pointer on its next possession to go back ahead. The first three minutes of the fourth quarter included two technical fouls on Ridgefield players after they themselves had been fouled. This led to two odd instances in which the Tigers shot uncontested free throws, followed by Darien shooting uncontested free throws.

After the second technical and the round of Darien foul shots, Ridgefield had a 48-46 advantage with 5:03 remaining. The Blue Wave responded with a three-pointer to take the lead, and the game went back and forth until the nerve-rattling ending.

“We talk a lot about execution, and our players had the choice to continue to just play without a lot of organization and discipline or choose to get organized and get the ball to our best players in really good spots ... and that’s what we did down the stretch," said McClellan. "We got the final stop and made one more play than them tonight."