Ridgefield rallies to beat Rams, reach FCIAC semis

Chris Knachel drives to the basket during Ridgefield's win over New Canaan in the FCIAC quarterfinals. — Andy Hutchison photo
Chris Knachel drives to the basket during Ridgefield's win over New Canaan in the FCIAC quarterfinals. — Andy Hutchison photo

The Ridgefield High boys basketball team overcame an eight-point deficit in the second half to defeat New Canaan, 51-44, in the FCIAC quarterfinals Saturday evening at Fairfield Warde.

With senior guard James St. Pierre pouring in 27 points, the fifth-seeded Tigers avenged a recent regular-season loss to fourth-seed New Canaan. Ridgefield will now play top-seed Trumbull in the semifinals on Tuesday night at Wilton High School.

Ahead 36-35 midway through the fourth quarter, Ridgefield (15-6) seized control with back-to-back 3-pointers from St. Pierre and Johnny Briody off drive and kick-out plays.

“It was huge,” St. Pierre said of Ridgefield’s comeback effort. “John Briody hit a big 3. It was then that we really thought we could win the game.”

Ridgefield’s success in driving to the hoop led to some open looks from the outside, and the Tigers capitalized.

Following those 3-pointers, New Canaan called timeout. But the Rams couldn’t thwart Ridgefield’s momentum.

Out of the stoppage, Matt Misurelli made a steal that led to St. Pierre earning a trip to the foul line. St. Pierre hit both free throws, putting Ridgefield ahead 44-35 with 3:34 left.

The lead grew to as many as 10 points (49-39), as Luke McGarrity sank a couple of clutch foul shots on one-and-ones.

Ridgefield led 6-3 after one quarter and trailed 18-15 at the half. New Canaan (16-5) started the third period with a 4-0 run and built a 27-19 lead before the Tigers rallied to tie the score at 29-29 entering the final period.

St. Pierre drained a 3-pointer and hit a couple of free throws to get Ridgefield within three. New Canaan then went up by five points before the Tigers closed the quarter with five unanswered points. St. Pierre drew a charge that led to Chris Knachel's driving basket, and Knachel then took a charge that led to Briody's 3-pointer, following Matt DeLuca’s offensive rebound.

Knachel finished with nine points for the Tigers, with DeLuca adding six and McGarrity contributing three.

The key to Ridgefield’s success on defense in the later stages of the game was an adjustment made during a timeout, according to head coach Andrew McClellan. The Tigers had been going for steals and needed to get away from the high-risk/high-reward style and back off a bit while still applying pressure.

“We got them out of their comfort zone,” McClellan said.

“It feels great, against a great team like this. They had our number the last time," added McClellan, referring to New Canaan's 60-53 win at Ridgefield on Feb. 11. “I’m super proud of the kids. They worked really hard through this.”

St. Pierre was a force from all over the court. He scored in close, sank a trio of 3-pointers, connected on six free throws, and played strong defense.

“With a player like James, everyone else can play off him a little bit. James is so dynamic. He does so much,” McClellan said.

“We executed,” St. Pierre said.“We played good defense all the way through.”