There were a number of games Tuesday night that turned some eyebrows and was evidence of the parity in the FCIAC this season — Trumbull’s win over Norwalk and Fairfield Ludlowe’s upset of Fairfield Warde the two biggest — but despite a number of intriguing contests and intra-city rivalries, most of the attention was focused on Ridgefield, where the Tigers were handed their first loss, 48-44, by Trinity Catholic.
Many people I either spoke to or who contacted me on Twitter were predicting a Ridgefield win in the 15-point range. I thought the Tigers would win a close game. I based my prediction on one tangible: Ridgefield has probably the best team chemistry in the league and that commodity had been perhaps the Crusaders’ biggest weakness.
So what happened? Trinity essentially beat Ridgefield at its own game, playing a little better defense, making more plays down the stretch and, something that bodes well for the future, really performing cohesively.
The Trinity players afterward in the locker room were talking about Tuesday night’s game being a turning point. We shall see. These teams could easily meet again in the postseason, and I think it is a pick-em game. The Crusaders have a little better natural talent, but the Tigers offset that because they are so fundamentally sound.
While others might, I don’t consider the outcome an upset. These are two pretty equal teams that just play in a very diverse way. Actually, the Tigers’ style is old school and unique in that regard.
What I think will be most interesting is seeing how the teams react going forward. With that as a starting point, here are a bunch of random thoughts on the game:
— The Tigers have to come back Friday and play a surging Bridgeport Central team at home. Their closest game prior to Trinity was 20 points. Given how Ridgefield faltered down the stretch — its last field goal in the final 4:40 came with 14 seconds left — it is not unreasonable to at least wonder if the players buckled when first confronted with a close contest. And what effect a second straight loss might have.
I actually think Tuesday’s outcome could be beneficial in the long run. The Tigers were a different kind of unbeaten team than St. Joseph, which rolls over opponents with its athleticism. Ridgefield is more like the inner workings of a watch; if one piece falters, so does the entire piece of equipment. It is what has made the Tigers so formidable thus far. And also why the difference between them and the rest of the contenders is a fragile one.
Meanwhile, what kind of bounce will the Crusaders get from this win? The players were understandably enthusiastic at handing the Tigers their first loss, but with all seven players having a crucial part in the outcome, it was also like an awakening. If the Crusaders play with the same togetherness, league and state titles will be within their grasp.
— You could point to two or three choices right now, but if the vote were held today, Ridgefield’s Carl Charles would get my vote for Coach of the Year. I think the Tigers were vastly underestimated at the beginning of the season, but when they are good — running off screens for open shots, moving the ball quickly, playing in-your-face defense — it is a joy to watch old-school fundamental basketball, something you seldom see anymore.
— Tuesday night was the best performance of the season by Paschal Chukwu, the Crusaders’ 7-foot-1 center, who had 10 rebounds and blocked six shots. Chukwu is naturally going to get blocks because of his size, but where he has improved dramatically is with his anticipatory skills — knowing how to position himself and getting to shots in transition. Whether they will admit it or not, the Tiger players had Chukwu in the back of their minds when they entered the paint. His defense is going to be a big factor to the team’s success.
— Speaking of key players — and I have been saying this since opening day — the two who I think can tip the scales for Trinity are Tyler Walston and Aaron Spence. They have bought into their roles coming off the bench, and if they can contribute in their time on the court, as both did against Ridgefield, the Crusaders are A LOT more dangerous.
— Trinity point guard Schadrac Casimir was the most influential player down the stretch. He gets teased for never changing facial expressions. When I asked him about it again after the game, he said he feels like he is demonstrating emotion even though he isn’t showing it.
“People tell me to do it and I try and think I am,” he said with a smile. “I just have a calm demeanor. I just try to keep a level head and stay calm.”
— Ridgefield has had different players step up at key times, but its long-term success will hinge a lot on Kurt Steidl, their most assertive player, and Seth von Kuhn, a dual threat handling the ball and hitting outside shots. It is hard to see the Tigers going deep into the playoffs if one or both have a really bad night.
— FINALLY, the question everyone in the Ridgefield Twitter-sphere has been asking me (at least those who follow me): what about the Tigers Lair, the famed student fan section?
This was my first basketball game at the school in well over a decade. Down in these parts I’ve heard two things: Ridgefield has both the most fervent and the most obnoxious fans. Based on Tuesday night, that scouting report is 50 percent accurate.
The Ridgefield student section — by a large margin — is the most passionate fan base I have seen. It took over one quarter of the gymnasium on a Tuesday night, the norm I’m told. The students were animated and definitely gave the Tigers a big home-court advantage.
As far as the Lair being obnoxious, that was not the case Tuesday night. Maybe visitors are not used to boisterous fans, but their taunting was all good spirited.
SOOOOOOO. Is Ridgefield the toughest gym to play in? I am going to let you decide with a poll starting in the morning. I’ll give the Tigers the edge for best fans, but I think there is a very good debate between five schools for being the toughest site.
The Starting 5
1. ST. JOSEPH (11-0). Right now the Cadets look like an unbeatable juggernaut, but I still have a funny feeling they will slip once before the postseason.
2. RIDGEFIELD (10-1) You can make a strong debate about spots 2 through 5. We won’t bump the Tigers for one loss.
3. TRINITY CATHOLIC (9-3): The Crusaders found their template Tuesday night for postseason success.
4. WESTHILL (8-3). Chris Walters’ return, as expected, has really elevated the Vikings. And the Purple Pack is becoming a fan force.
5. BASSICK (8-3). We will give the Lions the nod over city rival Bridgeport Central based on their win when the teams met two weeks ago.
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