Ridgefield tops Rams, clinches FCIAC spot

The Ridgefield High boys varsity basketball team clinched a berth in the conference playoffs by beating New Canaan, 67-55, on Monday night at home.

Ridgefield (13-6 overall, 10-5 FCIAC) will be one of eight teams competing in the FCIAC quarterfinals on Saturday at Fairfield Warde. Seedings and pairings will be determined following Wednesday night’s final regular-season games.

In front of a big Senior Night crowd, the Tigers opened an early lead and went on to beat New


Ridgefield jumped ahead 13-8 in the opening quarter and was in front, 22-14, with three minutes to go in the first half. But New Canaan went on an 8-0 run to tie the game with five seconds left. The Tigers brought the ball up quickly and Brenden McNamara buried a long three-pointer from the left elbow at the buzzer to put the hosts back on top, 25-22, at halftime.

Chris Longo made a jumper from the foul line and hit a corner three off a pass from Zach Esemplare to begin the third quarter, giving momentum to Ridgefield. New Canaan immediately called a timeout, down 30-22 with seven minutes remaining in the quarter.

After a couple of defensive stops by Ridgefield, Longo nailed another three from the corner with 5:15 remaining to give the Tigers a 33-22 advantage. The Tigers closed the third period ahead 44-35, with Longo contributing 10 points in the quarter.

Ridgefield had its largest lead of the night, 53-39, with 5:00 remaining in the fourth, but New Canaan closed the gap to seven, 58-51, with 1:30 left. Ridgefield then made six consecutive free throws in the final 48 seconds — and 12 of 13 overall in the fourth quarter — to seal the victory.

Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan admitted that a problem for his squad all season has been relaxing against inferior teams. Following a mediocre first half Monday, he addressed his players at halftime in order to get them on track.

“So what are we gonna do? Are we going to panic because we think we should beat this team, or are we going to kind of get into the mentality of ‘we’re going to try to get a stop this possession and then we’re going to try and score,’ ” said McClellan. “That was the talk at halftime.”

“We were able to get pressure on them, get more stops than we were able to in the first half,” said McNamara, who finished with 19 points. “We were able to go possession by possession — score, stop, score, stop. We were able to get [the ball] into Nicky (Laudati) down low and they really had no answer for our size.”

The Rams also had no answer for Longo, who finished with a season-high 23 points. The senior forward has really picked up his offensive game, especially from the perimeter, over the past few weeks after searching for his shot to begin the season.

“He’s been great for us all year long in other facets of the game,” said McClellan about Longo. “Recently, some of those shots have started to fall. It’s no coincidence that as that happens, he starts to relax and they start to fall some more.”

“I’m feeling more confident in my shot,” said Longo. “I feel like if I have my shot back then I can get guys to get out on me farther and then I can have my drive game easier.”

New Canaan’s Tyler Sweeney was the main source of offense for the Rams, as he scored 27 points.

"He’s a handful to guard," McClellan said. “I didn’t think we paid as much attention to him as we could have or should have, but [he’s a] very good player. We respect him a lot.”

In the final home contest of the regular season, Longo and fellow seniors Esemplare, Laudati and Joe Newborn were honored in a pre-game ceremony. “They’re the backbone of this team,” McClellan said. “They’re really, really mature. They’re not outward leaders, but they’re always where they’re supposed to be. They’re really good examples on and off the court for our younger players.”

The crowd, which was loud all night long, sent the seniors off with one last ovation when McClellan removed them from the game with 10 seconds left.

“We had a big crowd so it was nice to give us energy to play in front of,” Longo said. “You just feel like you want to go out with a bang. I think all four us brought it tonight.”

Laudati finished with 17 points, his most impressive basket coming on a thunderous fastbreak dunk after he jumped in front of a New Canaan pass. Freshman Luke McGarrity added five points and Newborn collected three points.