Ridgefield makes history by sending four teams to state finals
Fans across the state will flock to several sites Friday and Saturday to cheer on their respective schools as athletes chase the immortality that goes along with winning a state championship.
Those supporting Ridgefield High School might want to make sure the gas tank is on full before departing North Salem Road.
Ridgefield became the first school to have four teams — baseball, boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse — reach spring finals, according to the CIAC, which added that eight schools had previously reached three finals. Two of the teams — baseball and girls lacrosse — are making their first final appearance. Three teams will play Saturday at different times, allowing die-hard fans to support each squad and their memorable runs to the final.
“It’s a testament to Ridgefield High School,” said volleyball coach Lidania Cibere. “There is such great support from everybody, from (Athletic Director Dane Street) to the principal. It’s great; these kids are student-athletes and they’re putting in the work in the classroom as well as in their sports. I think it’s rare, but it’s just great.”
It’s been another banner season for Ridgefield, which has also claimed a host of FCIAC championships over the past 18 months. This comes on the heels of the Tigers girls soccer team winning a first ever Class LL championship last December.
Throw in outstanding sprinter Emma Langis — who won the State Open crown in the 300 hurdles last week — and the Tigers are on the verge of collecting hardware on the final day of the high school season.
The games are staggered serendipitously for fans: Girls lacrosse plays at 10 a.m. at Law, followed by baseball in Middletown 12 p.m. and boys lacrosse at 3 p.m. in Norwalk. All three of those squads were either trailing or tied late in their respective semifinals before digging deep to pull out impressive wins.
“It will be a lot of time in the car but it’s a good problem to have,” said Street, who became AD in April, 2016. “It should be a fun day, I hope I’m not the only Tiger fan who’s getting to all of them. I think every one of our teams has a chance.”
ONE GOAL EXPERTS
A brutal schedule and key injuries combined to help the Tigers girls lacrosse team got off to a slow start at 3-4. The last of those defeats was a 7-6 defeat to New Canaan, their opponents in Saturday’s final.
“We did some goal-setting, got working hard stayed the course on what we wanted to be on and off the field,” said coach Cece Berger. “As we worked we went through and learned from our mistakes each day.”
Players came back and momentum began to build for Ridgefield, but a particular FCIAC rival stood in the way of making a deep run in states. Ridgefield fell to Greenwich 20-10 in the regular season and 13-8 in the FCIAC quarterfinals, but the Tigers upended the Cards 7-6 in the state quarterfinals.
“We knew we were going see Greenwich a third time and it was just learning from what we did wrong the first game that we used early in second game,” Berger said. “We knew by the third game we could play with anyone. They have good players and we had to be at our best.”
The drama wasn’t over yet.
Ridgefield then got a goal from Alyssa Gagnon with 4.9 seconds left in regulation and one from leader Caroline Curnal early in overtime to secure a dramatic 14-13 win over Cheshire in the semis. The Tigers are a win against the Rams away from a first title.
“The team I’m most excited is for the girls team making it for the first time,” said boys coach Roy Colsey. “We want to build a strong lacrosse culture — not just boys lacrosse but lacrosse in general. Seeing Cece and her team advance gives our whole town a boost; I’m thrilled they’re doing a great thing.”
The Ridgefield baseball team will also be making its first state final appearances after riding the right arms of senior Alex Price and sophomore Matt DeLuca. The pair both made contributions during the Tigers’ 2-1, 10-inning classic against Amity in Wednesday’s semifinals. Price pitched into the ninth inning while DeLuca got the last four outs.
It was a fitting way to advance for Ridgefield, which had hopes of achieving the feat last year before falling in the semifinals. Coach Paul Fabbri has built the Tigers into a force in the past six years, culminating with Saturday’s matchup against SCC power Cheshire at Palmer Field.
“I think the six years has kind of brought stability to the program,” Fabbri said. “Also the youth programs in town always been pretty strong; it really is an effort throughout town that stretches down to feeder programs. We’ve had some great athletes over the past two years.”
Price, DeLuca and senior Jake Artzt have combined to post a 17-4 record with more than 150 strikeouts for Ridgefield with an ERA close to 1.00.
ANOTHER SHOT AT GOLAITH
The Ridgefield boys lacrosse team had a relatively simple path on paper to the Class L final, avoiding all the FCIAC heavyweights. They’ll meet the biggest one of those Saturday when Darien puts its 76-game win streak spanning more than three seasons on the line at McMahon High School.
“It’s Darien,” Colsey said. “They’ve made this a much bigger game by also having a 76-game win streak and that’s a testament to them to be the best team in the state. This is a tremendous opportunity for us; we didn’t want them to lose until we saw them again.”
But the journey is never as simple as it seems, and Ridgefield had to rally from a sizable deficit to slip past Glastonbury in the semis. The Tomahawks — who beat Ridgefield by five goals in last year’s playoffs — led 5-0 late in the third quarter before defender Luke Gaydos began taking faceoffs and turned the tide in the Tigers’ favor.
The Tigers — who fell to Darien 11-6 during the regular season — will be making their sixth final appearance; Colsey won a state championship when his squad beat Fairfield Prep in 2011.
“We talk about when we start the year; being on the field on the last day of the season,” said Colsey. “We don’t talk about winning a state championship specifically, but we talk about making sure the seniors get an opportunity on the last day; it’s something we’ve worked towards.”
If it wasn’t for a group in Westport, it could be the Tigers that would be wrapping up their season with championship banner. All that separated Ridgefield from perfection was Staples, as four losses to the Wreckers — one in the FCIAC final and one in the Class L final Thursday night — led to a pair of silver medals.
Ridgefield finished its season 21-4 after a sensational effort against the Wreckers. Swept the first three times they faced Staples, the Tigers almost claimed the upset in a five-set loss, the final game coming down to a 15-13 score.
“What I always want out of our kids is to give our best effort,” Street said. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose; that’s where we are in education-based athletics. You have to learn from each experience and respect the effort from the other team.”
This is a team that isn’t a stranger to state finals. The Tigers won three straight titles from 2014-16 and appeared in their sixth final overall in 15 years on Thursday.