— Jason Sonski (@JasonSonski) March 9, 2016
MIDDLETOWN >> Xavier and Ridgefield traded clutch shot after clutch shot in a memorable Class LL state tournament opener on Tuesday night.
Unfortunately, it’s March Madness and only one team can advance.
Senior forward Matt Bartolucci drained a 3-pointer with only 11 seconds left in overtime to give the No. 22 Tigers a thrilling 54-53 victory over the Falcons at Art Kohs Gymnasium.
Ridgefield (12-10) will meet No. 6 Trumbull for the third time this season in the second round on Thursday. Ridgefield lost to Trumbull in the regular season and in the FCIAC tournament quarterfinals.
“That was a great high school game,” Ridgefield coach Andrew McClellan said. “Xavier has nothing to be ashamed about. We’ve lost four or five games very similar to this this year. And really what happened today was we made one more play than them.”
After Xavier senior Evan Curtin buried a 3-pointer with just 23 seconds left in regulation to give the Falcons a 45-43 lead, the Tigers sent it into overtime on Matt Saporito’s low post hoop with three seconds remaining.
The overtime was one for the ages. There were seven lead changes and it looked like Xavier was going to have the last one when Mitch Nappi buried a 3-pointer to give the Falcons a 53-51 edge with 1:15 left.
Xavier then regained possession but the Falcons threw the ball out of bounds with 25 seconds left.
“We knew it would be a tight game one way or another,” Xavier coach Mike Kohs said. “The killer was we were in position to win the game and we made three glaring mistakes in the last 26 seconds.”
The Tigers worked the ball inside to Saporito, who made a number of big shots from the low post down the stretch.
Saporito, however, was triple-teamed and he kicked a pass to Bartolucci, who was open in the corner, and he buried the winning shot.
“It was a great pass,” Bartolucci said. “We just kept fighting down the stretch and that’s all you can ask for. The play was to get a good shot and that was a good shot that we took. It feels great.”
The Falcons still had 10 seconds to answer but Curtin’s off balance shot from the top of the arc missed.
Saporito had a game-high 15 points, while Chris Longo and Chase Levesque each had 12 points for Ridgefield.
“We finished and executed down the stretch and it paid off for us,” McClellan said. “We knew if they took the post guy away (Bartolucci) would be open. And sometimes you get lucky. He gets the credit. He knocked down the shot.”
Curtin finished with 14 points, senior center Alex White had 12 points and Tyler Williams added 11 points for No. 11 Xavier (15-8).
“It was a game where both teams made great plays,” Kohs said. “It’s just a sad way for the season to end. It’s a tough way to lose, especially for our six seniors. We should have closed the game out.”
RIDGEFIELD 54, XAVIER 53
Ridgefield 7 14 8 16 9 – 54
Xavier 9 14 9 13 8 – 53
Zach Esemplare 0 2-2 2, Longo 5 1-1 12, Bartolucci 2 0-0 6, Lavenesque 5 2-3 12, Saporito 6 3-4 15, Brenden McNamara 1 1-2 4, Nick Laudati 0 0-0 0, James St. Pierre 1 0-0 3. Totals: 20 9-12 54
Tyler Williams 4 1-2 11, Jacob Coleman 1 0-0 3, Evan Curtin 5 2-3 14, Alex White 6 0-1 12, Scott Marks 0 1-2 1, Gianni Calistro 3 0-0 6, Mitch Nappi 2 1-1 6. Totals: 21 5-9 53
3-point goals: Ridgefield 5 (Longo 1, Bartolucci 2, McNamara 1, St. Pierre 1); Xavier 6 (Williams 2, Coleman 1, Curtin 2, Nappi 1); Records: Ridgefield 12-9; Xavier 15-8