After a 4-0 start, the Ridgefield boys basketball team lost three straight games and four in a stretch of six. While Trumbull and Danbury were prohibitive preseason favorites, the Tigers were considered a team that could be at the top of the next tier, maybe even a championship sleeper.
It was a tailspin that might have derailed most teams. Instead, the Tigers rebounded and were riding a four-game winning streak heading into tonight’s game at Staples. The high mark so far was Friday’s 62-44 victory over Wilton, their biggest rival.
“We had to play all these heavyweights first,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “For the first time in a while we’re just trying to get into the playoffs, so every win is helpful. We’re just trying to get into a spot where we can get into that playoff and we feel we can compete against anybody.”
The losing streak came with a number of caveats. Two of the defeats were against the Eagles and Hatters. The Tigers thought they had a signature road win at Trumbull until the Eagles’ Timmond Williams banked in a 3-point shot at the buzzer. The third loss was against Bassick, a top 10 team.
“The Trumbull game I can name five mistakes we made at the end, the Danbury game it was a two-point game with 2 1/2 minutes left,” McClellan said. “Bassick was just a loss.”
The Tigers would like to have back a 60-58 defeat against Brien McMahon, a team that is in the hunt for one of the final FCIAC Tournament playoff spots.
“McMahon is the one we let get away probably with a lack of execution down the stretch,” McClellan said. “McMahon is talented.”
The Tigers have been a consistently strong program in recent years. Last year they won the regular season champion but were upset in the first round of the FCIAC playoffs.
There are some similarities and contrasts to this year’s team and its predecessors. With the graduation of center Brenden McNamara, the Tigers are reliant on James St. Pierre for offense. Pierre has delivered, averaging over 25 points a game against a variety of defenses designed to contain him. St. Pierre was often double-teamed against Wilton but still scored 23 points.
While St. Pierre looks to score, he does so in an unselfish manner.
“He’s having a ridiculous season,” McClellan said. “He guards for us, he has four or five assists a game.”
Williams and Denali Burton are the current frontrunners for the league’s most outstanding player award, but St. Pierre is undoubtedly in the conversation.
This is the first time the Tigers don’t have an obvious second double-figure scorer, but so far that has not been a problem. They need several players to put up six to 10 points a game and have been getting it.
One night the secondary scoring might come from Chris Knachel, who put up 14 against Wilton. Sometimes it is Luke McGarrity, back after missing five games following an injury against Trumbull. Matt Misurelli, Cam Andry and John Briody are all good 3-point shooters who take advantage of the open looks that come from the crowd St. Pierre attracts.
“We usually have two or three guys in double figures along with James, it is just different people,” McClellan said. “Chris is usually somewhere around there. Because of the attention that James gets other people get less attention. We’ve always eight or 10 guys who can play and everyone is stepping up and maturing.”
One of the constants from previous years is defense. It is emphasized, practiced and more often than not executed.
One thing that has been beyond the Tigers’ control is injuries. Derek Szpakowski, a valuable inside player, and James Rush have been lost for the year.
“We haven’t been 100 percent and we’re not going to be 100 percent,” McClellan said.
Because of the composition of the roster, McClellan hasn’t had to make any strategic changes. Success will continue by following the template.
“We’ve got to get better at what we do,” McClellan said. “That’s what practice is all about. You’ve got to get in the gym. We have kids in new roles. James is the only one in a similar role. He’s got a bigger role. More people coming at him. Last year McNamara was at the top of the scouting report. Everyone is settling into the roles, we are getting a little healthier and we just play it one game at a time.”
No. 1 Trumbull (13-1, 10-0) vs. No. 8 Fairfield Warde (8-6, 5-5)
No. 2 Danbury (11-3, 10-1) vs. No. 7 Stamford (8-6, 5-5)
No. 3 Ridgefield (10-4, 7-3) vs. No. 6 St. Joseph (9-4, 7-3)
No. 4 Wilton (11-3, 8-2) vs. No. 5 New Canaan (12-3, 8-3)