Zone defense, Price's late bucket lift Ridgefield past Darien

During the final two quarters Friday night, the Ridgefield High boys basketball team got in the zone.

Literally at first and then figuratively.

Trailing 26-22 at halftime, the Tigers opted to use a zone defense exclusively in order to stop Darien's top two scorers, 6'7" Alex Preston and Zak Swetye. The decision worked: Preston and Sweyte were held to five combined points in the second half and Ridgefield rallied for a 56-53 road victory.

"This is a huge win for us because that's a good team — they've been on a huge roll," said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan about Darien. "I think the only game they've lost in the last month is the Wilton game ... and I thought they should've won that game."

With the score tied at 48, Nick Laudati made a layup to give Ridgefield (8-5 overall, 5-4 FCIAC) a two-point lead with 2:55 left in the in the fourth quarter.

Jack Richter then hit a corner three-pointer to put Darien (7-6 overall, 6-3 FCIAC) in front, and on Ridgefield's ensuing possession, point guard Zach Esemplare was fouled by Richter. Esemplare pushed Richter back and was hit with a technical. With the Tigers in the bonus, Esemplare missed his lone free-throw attempt. Darien's Theo Moore then missed the two free throws resulting from Esemplare's technical.

After McClellan called a timeout, Darien turned the ball over and Alex Price missed a three-pointer. Moore made a layup that gave Darien a 53-50 lead with 1:08 remaining, but Joe Newborn was fouled and sank both free throws to bring Ridgefield within one, at 53-52, with 58 seconds left.

Esemplare then stole Darien's inbound pass and McClellan called a timeout with 46 seconds remaining. During the timeout, McClellan drew up a play designed to get Price the ball for a jumpshot off the inbounds pass.

Esemplare inbounded to Price, who was guarded heavily. But the junior guard found a lane to the basket and drove down the middle, laying the ball in off the glass with his right hand and falling to the floor. The bucket gave the Tigers a 54-53 lead, and Darien called a timeout with 30 seconds left.

William Rolapp missed a jumper, and Richter came up with the offensive rebound but had his put-back blocked by Laudati, who ultimately grabbed the loose ball and was fouled with 10 seconds left.

After Laudati made the first free throw, Darien called a timeout. The icing attempt didn't work, though, as Laudati hit the second foul shot to put Ridgefield ahead, 56-53.

The Tigers intentionally fouled Darien twice to leave 4.4 seconds on the clock, and the Blue Wave's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer fell short of the rim.

"The pressure was insane," said Laudati about his late free throws. "I was definitely scared. I had missed them all (three previous foul shots) before. Coach [McClellan] kind of pulled me aside and said just go through your routine. So I took a deep breath and they went in luckily.

"I think everybody stepped up big today, especially Alex Price," continued Laudati. "He hit some clutch shots, we locked in on D, and we worked the ball around; we weren't selfish."

"The play was for me to get a shot at the top [of the key] and I was guarded heavily," said Price about his game-winning shot. "I saw a lane to the basket and I just made a play."

Laudati had a game-high 16 points (10 in the second half) for the Tigers. Price added 13 points and Newborn contributed 10 points (eight in the second half). Chris Longo finished with six points and Esemplare had five points.

Preston paced Darien with 15 points, with all but three of those coming in the first half.

Press Sports Reporter Rich Kaufman contributed to this story.