Trumbull advances with double-overtime thriller

In a gladiator duel just as tight and tense as Trumbull’s 66-64 overtime victory over Ridgefield in a regular-season contest last Monday, the second-seeded Eagles defeated the seventh-seeded Tigers, 51-46, in two overtime sessions and 40 minutes of neck-and-neck basketball in an FCIAC quarterfinal game Saturday at Fairfield Ludlowe.

Trumbull (18-3) advances to an FCIAC semifinal showdown against sixth-seed Westhill on Tuesday at Fairfield Warde. Ridgefield (11-10) is left to lick its wounds before a March 9 Class LL state tournament first-round game against Xavier-Middletown.

Trumbull was able to force the sporadic Ridgefield offense into long dry spells and held the deep-shooting Tigers to just six points from beyond the arc. The Tigers’ defense held the potent Trumbull offense to a mere 51 points.

“We just kept fighting,” said Trumbull’s Jack Moore, who scored 18 points although the three-point specialist had just two treys. “It came down to foul shots. [Ridgefield’s] a great team, and they were really pounding on us all game.”

“I think [this result] says that we’re just as good as them,” said Ridgefield head coach Andrew McClellan. “They made one more executed play than us down the stretch, and that’s the bottom line. We had them a few times, but couldn’t put them away. We had to stay with our offensive plan, and we just didn’t do that.”

There was not much scoring production all game long, but especially so in the opening quarter. Ridgefield led 8-6 after eight minutes of deliberate, if not slow-paced basketball. The Tigers had a heavy hand on the offensive glass, but could not convert long offensive possessions into points.

In the second quarter, there was still not much to separate the two teams, save an 8-0 Trumbull run at the end of the half. Moore punctuating the spurt by picking Chase Levesque’s pocket and hitting a three-point runner as the buzzer sounded.

Tough interior defense by the Tigers, led by captain Matt Saporito, kept Trumbull big-men Ben McCullough and Chris Lyons in check (six points combined) in the first half, which ended with the Eagles ahead, 20-13.

Ridgefield came out of the eight-minute intermission fired up. Chris Longo and Levesque tallied the Tigers only three-pointers of the game, and then Levesque added a lay-in to regain the lead amid an 8-0 run that took just 77 seconds.

But for the next 6:43, Ridgefield was able to add only three more points. The Eagles needed just five points from a physical, yet offensively sedated third quarter to take a 25-24 lead into the final eight minutes.

Trumbull matched its game-high lead of five points by going ahead 31-26 with 5:34 to play. Ridgefield then got a lift when McCullough was called for a technical foul on Saporito with 4:49 left in play. Following that, Longo contributed four points during an 8-1 Tiger run.

At the tail end of that run, McCullough was called for a hard dead-ball foul on Joe Newborn and received his second technical and automatic ejection with 2:41 left. McCullough is also now suspended for the semifinal.

Stymying the run, Moore hit three consecutive free throws to give Trumbull a 35-34 lead with 1:59 left in regulation.

With the score tied, Saporito hit a shot from inside the paint to put the Tigers in front, 38-36, with 18 seconds left. But Trumbull’s Lyons answered with a basket with one second to go, sending the game into overtime.

Ridgefield jumped out to an early 42-38 lead with 2:25 left in the first extra session, but a 6-2 run by the Eagles followed, tying the score at 44-44 with 40 seconds left. Moore had a chance to win it for Trumbull off a circus-style layup at the buzzer, but the shot bounced off the iron and a second overtime beckoned.

After playing for their lives for 36 minutes, the Tigers seemed tired and out of tricks in the second overtime period. Two free throws from Levesque with 2:51 remaining were Ridgefield’s only points in the four-minute period.

Junior forward John Pfohl sealed the deal for Trumbull with four free throws in the last 39 seconds — off of fouls that Levesque and Saporito fouled out on.

Saporito led the Tigers with 15 points, and Levesque followed with 11. Longo added nine points for the Tigers and Newborn had seven.

McCullough notched eight points before his ejection, while Lyons and Pfohl each added seven points.