Boys basketball: Ridgefield downs Wilton in double overtime to win FCIAC title

It took two overtime periods to crown this year’s boys basketball FCIAC champion between two neighboring town rivals, Wilton and Ridgefield — with both teams seeking to make history by capturing their first-ever boys basketball FCIAC championship.

And after the 40 minutes of playing time, that saw three Wilton starters foul out and one starter leave early in the contest to injury, and three Ridgefield starters also foul out, the Ridgefield Tigers came out on top, 68-64, in front of packed Alumni Hall crowd of 2,800 at Fairfield University on Thursday night.

The Warriors had held the lead from 1:15 left in the first quarter until 3:53 remaining in the fourth quarter. After Ridgefield freshman Luke McGarrity hit free throws in a one-and-one situation, Ridgefield held a 47-40 lead with 1:49 left in regulation.

With most of the team’s captains and starters gone, Wilton’s Matt Kronenberg shouldered the team’s load the rest of the way out. Kronenberg connected for eight points in the final 1:24 of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 49-49 with 30.1 seconds remaining. Ridgefield, with a chance for the win in regulation, held the ball for the last shot, but turned the ball over to Wilton with less than a second left.

Brenden McNamara opened the first overtime with a basket and when Zachary Esemplare hit two free throws, the Tigers had a 55-51 lead with 48 seconds remaining.

With Wilton down by three, 56-53, Kronenberg drove to the hoop for a bucket and was fouled with 13.3 second left on the clock. Kronenberg hit the free throw to tie the game at 56-56. Ridgefield brought the ball up the court, but couldn’t get off a shot before time expired, sending the game into a second overtime period.

Wilton stole the second overtime tip and again it was Kronenberg for two to give Wilton a 58-56 lead. With 1:47 left, another Kronenberg basket put the Warriors up 62-61. Esemplare scored and was fouled and after he converted the conventional three-point play the Tigers were ahead for good at 64-62.

With the clock winding down and trailing by two, the Warriors were forced to foul but they found the wrong guy to foul. Chris Longo went four-for-four from the free-throw line for the Tigers to close out the chance of another Wilton comeback.

“The kids played their butts off and fought like hell and I couldn’t be more proud of the effort they gave me tonight,” said Wilton head coach Joel Geriak after the game.

Just prior to the game Geriak found out that the team would be without its heart and soul, Jack Wood, who was injured late in the win over Trumbull in the semifinals.

“We played the game without Wood, one of our key defenders, three starters fouled out, including our most consistent player in Drew Connolly, and Jack Williams, our best all-around player and the glue as I call him, goes down early with an injury.”

Williams has been battling a knee issue and missed most of the second half of the season.

“Kronenberg picked up the load, but we ended the game with players on the floor that aren’t normally out there. All 13 players saw playing time due to the foul trouble and injuries,” Geriak said. “We knew they were going to eat away at our early lead and we had chances to put them away and win the game. We missed some easy buckets at key spots in the game and we couldn’t get the big stops when we needed to. But I tip my hat to them, they’re a good team and there is a reason they were playing in the championship.”

Wilton held a 15-13 lead after a first quarter that saw five lead changes.

The Warriors opened the second quarter with a 8-0 run for their biggest lead of the night at 10 points, 23-13. The Tigers’ first points of the second quarter came from two free throws McNamara with three minutes left in the quarter. Ridgefield went on a run of its own and closed the gap to 25-21, but Wilton went three-for-four from the free-throw line to close out the first half up 28-21.

Both teams were being physical, but the Warriors were outhustling the Tigers for the loose balls. Wilton guards were able to get a step on their defenders and drive to the hoop for layups. On defense the Warriors forced the Tigers to adjust their close range shots with their tight play.

Wilton held the lead for the entire third quarter, but the Tigers closed the Warrior lead to four 37-33 by the end of the period.

Matt Kronenberg led all scorers with a 31 points. Kronenberg got 20 of them in the fourth quarter and the overtime periods. Connolly added 12 points for the Warriors.

McNamara led Ridgefield with 18 points, and was named tournament MVP, followed by Longo with 17 points and Esemplare with 12 points.

Ridgefield went the foul line 49 times, converting 29 of them, while Wilton went to the line 22 times, making 16.