Those in attendance at Ridgefield High School on Jan. 9 got a case study into the occasional oversights in all-conference voting.
On that night, Danbury scored just eight points in a dreadful first half that resulted in a 50-38 loss to the Tigers.
If you were an opposing coach that does not follow your opponents closely — there are a handful in all sports — and that was the only time you will see the Hatters play this season, none of their players made a positive impression.
So far that is the only time I have seen Danbury yet I voted them 10th in my state ballot on Sunday. Because that game has proved to be an extreme aberration — it is the team’s only loss, albeit a bad one.
Danbury has won its other 11 games, and Friday night’s 73-66 win over Fairfield Warde without second-leading scorer Denali Burton might have been its most impressive so far. The Mustangs came into the game unbeaten in league play, led by Sean Conway, the league’s most complete player.
“We played a great game,” Danbury coach Casey Bock said. “But now it is trying to get the guys to realize that every game is a big game in the FCIAC. Especially for us because we’re going to play all teams that are potential playoff teams.”
The Hatters have eight games left, seven against conference opponents, and only one seems to be a long shot at having a chance at earning an FCIAC Tournament berth.
But when Bock makes his assessments at the end of the season, his analysis will come in large part by what happens in the playoffs. The Hatters are coming off two strong regular seasons that eventually ended in disappointment.
Two years ago Danbury lost to Westhill in the league championship. Last winter in the semifinals, Ridgefield’s Zach Esemplare hit an improbable game-tying shot from just inside halfcourt at the end of regulation. The Hatters lost in double overtime.
They reached the state semifinals two years ago and the quarterfinals last season.
Now the goals are higher.
“The last couple years we’ve done a great job and I’ve had good kids and it’s raised the expectations, and now the expectation is to win it and be in the mix,” Bock said.
The Hatters long ago were a consistent league power but their trip to the 2016 final was their first in 22 years. The last championship came in 1992.
Bock has the personnel to end the drought. There are four players averaging in double figures, led by Jordan Brown, who is coming off a week in which he scored 64 points in two games. Behind him is Burton, who missed the Warde game after sustaining a cut on his lip that requited stitches. He will return for Friday night’s game at Norwalk.
Then comes Cameron Snow and point guard Javon Hernandez, who is averaging 11 points and 6 assists.
“We just keep getting better,” Bock said. “I thought Friday night was a good step. Keep playing good defense, rebounding the ball well and offensively we are getting better at sharing the ball and making the extra pass.”
Asked if the game against Ridgefield was a teaching point or an anomaly to be tossed aside, Bock said, “A little bit of both but definitely we learned something. I think it helped us. We have to give Ridgefield credit. They played well and they played very good defense but we broke down the film and for us offensively to be good we have to share the ball. That night it was telling that we didn’t make the extra pass and the result was we had an eight-point first half.”
Bock knew scoring was not going to be a problem for his team. It is at the other end of the court that the Hatters have made a big impression.
“Defensively I like where we’re at,” Bock said. “Looking at the team at the beginning of the year I wasn’t sure if we were going to play man to man or zone, but we’ve been a pretty good man to man team so defending we’re ahead of where I thought we might be. Offensively we have the pieces, we just have to make sure we play together and play the right way.”
No. 1 Ridgefield (10-2, 9-0) vs. No. 8 Trumbull (10-2, 7-2). The Tigers have recently had to rally late against three teams with a combined five league wins, but they have yet to stumble. Today at Wilton is a big test. The Eagles’ final six games are against teams sure to be or with a great chance of playing in the FCIAC Tournament. They need a few quality wins.
No. 2 Danbury (11-1, 8-1) vs. No. 7 Bridgeport Central (6-4, 6-3). The Hatters have been picking up momentum since losing to Ridgefield. The Hilltoppers have the talent to be dangerous in the postseason. They just need to be more consistent.
No. 3 Trinity Catholic (9-3, 8-1) vs. No. 6 Norwalk (8-4, 6-2). If — if — the Crusaders play like they did against Wilton on Friday, it is hard to see them not winning the conference title. The method has been a little all over the place but the Bears have been piling up victories since a slow start.
No. 4 Fairfield Warde (8-4, 7-1) vs. No. 5 Wilton (7-4, 5-3). Who wouldn’t want to see this matchup on the opening day of the conference tournament (answer: these two schools)? Hard to fault the Mustangs for suffering their first league loss on the road up in Danbury. A win over Ridgefield today would be a welcome psychological boost as well for Wilton.