HAMDEN — As Andrew McClellan emerged from his locker room after tonight’s state playoff game with Hamden, he nodded toward a nearly full bucket of ice water on the floor.
“I liked it a lot better when I was wearing it,” joked McClellan, the Ridgefield boys basketball coach.
“It wasn’t that long ago McClellan was the recipient of a ceremonial dunking by his players, after the Tigers clinched the FCIAC regular-season title. Little did anyone know that would be their final win of the season.
Ever since Fairfield Warde’s Sean Conway hit a game-winning jumper over three defenders on the final night, Ridgefield’s fortunes took a drastic turn. First came an upset loss to Norwalk in the quarterfinal round of the FCIAC playoffs, followed by tonight’s 81-69 loss to the Green Dragons in the second round of the Division I Tournament.
“They played better than us tonight a little bit,” McClellan said. “We had some opportunities we didn’t take full advantage of. And then on the defensive end, too many offensive rebounds, too many layups. I thought in the second half we took a lot of their offensive firepower away. And we didn’t make enough open 3s, which we have all year long in these big situations.”
Sixth-seeded Hamden looked like it would turn the game into a rout early. Hamden used a pair of 9-0 runs to take a 21-6 lead and was up 26-10 after Victor Rosario’s third 3-point shot of the quarter.
The 11th-seeded Tigers (16-6) chipped away. They got within 33-29 before the Green Dragons scored the final seven points of the half. Hamden went ahead by 14 points in the third quarter, but when James St. Pierre hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer, Ridgefield was within 55-52.
But they would get no closer. Hamden pulled away over the final 4 1/2 minutes to advance.
“They’re a great team,” St. Pierre said of Hamden. “A lot of great athletes on that team. We dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first half but we fought hard.”
Jaylen Ricks scored 27 points to lead Hamden. Rosario added 18 and Ronnie Ellis finished with 17.
Brenden McNamara, who along with Alex Price are the only seniors on the roster, finished with 15 points and will go down as one of the best players in school history. Price scored 9 points.
St. Pierre was in a sense a microcosm of the defending FCIAC champion. He raised his game to another level and was a primary reason for the Tigers’ continued success this season. He finished with 25 points and will be one of the league’s top returning players next year.
“He was a good player last year, didn’t have the opportunity that he had this year, really stepped into the opportunity,” McClellan said. “A hard worker, a chip-on-his-shoulder guy. He’s been fabulous for us all year long. He’s been a good defensive player, he’s a great shooter but he makes plays for us too. He’s really stepped it up and helped us have a historic season.”
St. Pierre completed his final assist of the winter.
“It’s always great to contribute like that but I’ve got to give it up to my teammates,” he said. “They’re the ones who find me open. It’s a generic answer and not what anyone wants to hear, but they are the reason.”
Luke McGarrity, a sophomore who endured an injury-riddled winter, scored 11 points.
“This is a group that has accomplished more than anybody at Ridgefield in basketball,” McClellan said. “A lot to be proud of but that’s the way it works at the end of the season. We’ll get back after it. Those kids have had a historic run and we’ve got kids who know what they have to do and we have a totally different outlook in these games and other games than when we first got here.”