Danbury girls hold off Ridgefield to remain unbeaten
Published 11:21 pm, Thursday, January 24, 2013
RIDGEFIELD -- Presented with a swift silver lining, compliments of her counterpart, Ridgefield High girls basketball coach Katie Reed just chuckled.
In their turn to host mighty Danbury Thursday night, Reed's Tigers had cut a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to seven before ultimately meeting the same fate of 13 other teams before them. Still, the Hatters' 50-40 victory was easily their hardest-earned, coach Jackie DiNardo said, a true four-quarter test from a worthy FCIAC foe.
Reed's wordless reaction essentially spelled out what the distinction means: Congratulations, coach. You threw a rock at the giant.
The Hatters, ranked No. 1 in the New Haven Register's state media poll, overcame a brief stumble in taking their next step toward a second straight undefeated regular season, separating themselves with three quarters of relentless zone defense and up-tempo offense to move to 14-0.
On this night, Rebecca Gartner was the Hatters' M.V.T. -- Most Valuable Twin -- pouring in a game-high 23 points and helping to preserve the win at the free-throw line, where she stood stone-faced in the waning minutes, seemingly unfazed by the Tigers' late run.
"I knew that we had let them back into the game, so I just relaxed," said Gartner, who provided the usual array of leaning jump shots and acrobatic lay-ins that have become the staple of her and twin sister, Rachel, who added 10 points. "I told (my teammates) to relax. When we get frazzled, that's when we start turning it over and giving up easy shots."
The Hatters opened the game on a 7-0 run and set their customary breakneck tempo, obstructing passing lanes and generating a steady flow of turnovers to fuel their transition game. The Tigers (10-4) used their length to block a handful of Danbury shots in the early going but failed to establish the same interior presence on the other end.
Of their 16 field goals, the Tigers buried seven 3-pointers, including three in the third quarter that amounted to their only points during that stretch. Full-court pressure allowed for their late surge, which trimmed the deficit as low as 45-38 with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Tigers were mostly done in by their early struggles.
"We told them after the game, `How nice would it have been if we did that in the first half?'" Reed said. "It would have obviously been a totally different game. We told them, `We're going to see them again and we'll be more prepared.' Jackie's a great coach and they're a very good team."
The Hatters are chasing the state championship that eluded them when star senior center Casey Smith was lost to an ACL tear in their march to the FCIAC title. DiNardo thought this year's group, led by the Gartners, Smith's sister, Allie, and a host of other returning contributors, would contend again. She wasn't quite expecting perfection.
"I didn't know (we'd be unbeaten), but I did know we'd do well, and it's only because, when you lose the best player in the state (Smith), and you still win the FCIAC tournament, it's got to be because of somebody else," DiNardo said. "This team is so determined."
Andrea Ferrero 4 0-0 11; Maggie Scalzo 5 0-0 12; Samarah Cook 0 0-0 0; Maddie Wiley 1 0-0 2; Rebecca Lawrence 2 1-1 5; Carly Mercede 1 0-0 3; Andrea Bedard 2 0-0 4; Sandra Carpenter 1 0-0 3. Totals: 16 1-1 40.
Nahla Ward 0 0-0 0; Rachel Gartner 4 2-2 10; Allie Smith 4 1-2 9; Uniqua Tucker 1 2-4 4; Rebecca Gartner 9 5-5 23; Kayla Handberry 1 2-4 4; Lindsey Eanniello 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 12-17 50.
RIDGEFIELD 7 9 9 15 -- 40
DANBURY 16 14 9 11 -- 50
3-pointers: R--Ferrero 3, Scalzo 2, Mercede, Carpenter.