Shelton boys edge Ridgefield on last-second layup

RIDGEFIELD — Overtime appeared to be a base-case scenario for the Shelton boys basketball team in the waning seconds Monday of its Class LL first-round game at Ridgefield.

Playing the 2-3 defense for the first time all season — and doing so with great success — the Gaels dug in for one more stop with Ridgefield milking the clock and preparing to take the last shot.

With time dwindling, Ridgefield drove the lane but missed a difficult shot. In a flash, Armando Martinez pulled down the rebound and dished up the court to Brian Berritto, who exploded to his left and put his layup off the glass.

The ball rattled around in the rim before finally falling through, giving the 18th-seeded Gaels a 50-48 win at No. 15 Ridgefield.

“I saw him take the shot and it rimmed out and I saw Armando grab the ball,” Berritto said. “I looked at the clock and there were three seconds and he passed it to me and they were kind of jogging back. I knew I had time left — I didn’t know how much time I had left, so I just went to the hole. I was taking it to the rim.”

Up next for Shelton is Wednesday’s 7 p.m. clash at No. 2 Hillhouse.

“They really deserved it,” said Shelton coach Brian Gardiner, who hit a late game-winning basket 20 years ago in the Gaels’ last state tournament victory. “We’ve been playing a lot of close games. We pulled some really tough ones out, some improbable wins. They have it in them and they’ve been handling the end of games and they just did it one more time.”

While being eliminated from the SCC tournament in the first round was hardly ideal for the Gaels, the silver lining was that the extra time off allowed them to practice the 2-3 in hopes of combatting Ridgefield’s size.

“Our team played 2-3 zone for the first time all season and it worked out perfect for us,” Shelton’s Jeff Stockmal said. “I’m just so proud for the kid (Berritto). He grinds so hard in practice every day, and that shot means so much to our team and our program.”

Staring at a 20-11 deficit in the second quarter, Ridgefield went on a game-tying, nine-point run that saw four different players make shots from the field (James St. Pierre, Nick Laudati, Zack Esemplare and Brenden McNamara). St. Pierre started the strong stretch with a trey.

“We’ve won seven or eight games like that,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “You’re going to lose one of them at some point. When you keep playing on the edge, that’s going to happen. We just made too many mental mistakes tonight. They played a good game; you’ve got to give them some credit.”

Shelton (14-7), however, would respond immediately by scoring five of the final six points of the first half, as Stockmal hit a layup on a tough drive to the bucket and Martinez drained a 3-pointer to give the Gaels a 25-21 edge. With 4:51 remaining in the game, McNamara scored the final two points of an 8-0 run on a put-back that gave Ridgefield a 41-39 advantage, its first lead since being up 3-2 in the opening quarter.

A 3-pointer by Ridgefield’s (14-7) Chris Longo with 1:10 gave the Tigers a 48-47 edge, though a free throw from Berritto knotted the score with 44 seconds left, setting the stage for the frantic finish.

“We came in, we had an edge, we felt good about ourselves,” Berritto said. “We didn’t think we were underdogs; we thought we could win. Everyone’s doubting us all year, and we just keep proving them wrong.”

The Tigers closed the book on their season but not before reflecting on what was an incredible run to their first FCIAC championship.

“We’re a really competitive group, but we just talked about trying for 15 or 20 minutes to put it in the back of your head, and let’s talk about this historic season that we just had,” McClellan said. “Even if we were to win another one (FCIAC title), it’ll never be that one. It’ll never be the first and nobody is ever going to get a buzzer-beater and four overtimes (in the three rounds of the tournament). The memories we have for this team is amazing.”

jchik@newstimes.com; Twitter: @jchik17

SHELTON 50, RIDGEFIELD 48

SHELTON (14-8)

Jeff Stockmal 6 0-0 12; Brian Berritto 4 0-0 9; Dave Berritto 4 2-4 10; Dave Wells 1 0-0 3; Armando Martinez 5 1-2 13; Ryan Murphy 1 0-0 3. Totals: 21 3-6 50.

RIDGEFIELD (17-7)

Brendan McNamara 6 0-0 14; Zach Esemplare 1 0-0 2; Joseph Newborn 1 0-0 2; Luke McGarrity 1 0-0 2; James St. Pierre 2 0-0 6; Chris Longo 6 1-2 14; Nick Laudati 4 0-0 8. Totals: 21 1-2 48.

SHELTON 14 11 12 13—50

RIDGEFIELD 9 12 13 14—48

3-pointers: S—B. Berritto, Wells, Martinez 2, Murphy; R—McNamara 2, St. Pierre 2, Longo.