Greenwich boys basketball earns trip to FCIAC finals with win over Tigers

The Greenwich High School boys basketball team punched its ticket for to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship game with a 65-54 victory over Ridgefield High School.

“It’s a great feeling,” Greenwich High School head coach Bill Brehm said. “We were here in 2002 against Harding and to go back here for the second time in 12 years is a great feeling. I am just so happy for the seniors. They are a great group. I am certainly going to watch at least the first half of [the Central vs. Stamford] game and get ready for whoever wins it.”

Greenwich was led by CJ Byrd, who finished with a team-high 22 points. Alex Wolf, who fouled out with three minutes to play in the third quarter, still added 17 points. Griffin Golden, who was clutch in the second half, finished with 11 points and Tom Povinelli added seven points. Leonel Hyatt and John Palmer each rounded out the scoring with four points.

Greenwich and Central will compete in the FCIAC championship game Thursday night starting at 7 p.m. at the Fairfield Warde High School gym.

“It feel pretty good, but I know we are not done,” said Byrd. “We have to treat Thursday’s game like it’s the biggest game of our lives. We have to stay focused and close out the game. When we were down and things weren’t going our way, I made sure to tell the team to calm down and don’t put your heads down because the game is far from over. We needed to get the bad negativity out of our minds and keep pushing forward.”

For Ridgefield, who was playing without leading scorer Matt Brendan due to a knee injury, Patrick Racy led all scorers with 26 points. William Brady added 11 points and Charles Irwin finished with seven points.

Greenwich will get its chance against the team that stopped their undefeated season, as Bridgeport Central High School upended Stamford in the other FCIAC semifinal game, 66-47.

“Central beat us in their place and we knocked off Stamford in a very tight game where they had shot to tie it in the end,” Brehm said. “Thursday is going to be a great game regardless of who we play.”

With Wolf fouled out of the game with 2:55 to play in the third and Greenwich trailing 44-38, Big Red used clutch shooting from Byrd and Golden, as well as stellar defense from Palmer, to hold the Tigers to only six points in the final quarter.

With the scored knotted at 48, Greenwich was able to grab the lead on when Byrd went 1-for-2 from the line, however the play started when Palmer came up with the huge steal and found Byrd darting towards the Ridgefield basket.

“We put another zone defense in this weekend and it was huge tonight,” Brehm said. “We put it in two days ago and our kids ran it perfectly. John Palmer is unbelievable. He is the player of the game in my eyes. Everywhere he was today, he had a lot of energy and had a huge rebound coming from way out in front. As a senior knocking down a few free throws like that, as well as what CJ did at the end of the game, was great to see.”

When it came to the big shot, nobody had a better day than Golden, who was light’s out for Greenwich when it mattered most.

On the final play of the third quarter, Byrd was driving the lane, but instead of taking the shot, he dished back to Golden, who calmly drained the three-pointer from the right corner of the court as time expired and cut the deficit to 48-46.

“They were clogging the inside,” Byrd said. “Every time I drove, there was going to be someone there standing to take a charge at me. I didn’t want to take the chance, so I saw Griff open multiple times and just kicked out to him.”

Again, the Cards and Tigers were battling neck-in-neck and with 2:21 to play and Greenwich up 53-52, Golden got the ball at the top of the key and hit the three-pointer to give Big Red a four-point advantage.

“He has ice in his veins,” Brehm said. “He knocked down big shots and does all the little dirty work stuff. A lot of people don’t recognize him, so he certainly did something here to get noticed.”

From there it was all Byrd. Although he only was able to hit one bucket in the final frame, it was his ability to go six-for-eight from the free throw line that sealed the victory.

Although Big Red came away with the double-digit win, it was much closer throughout most of the contest. Every time a team would grab the lead, the other would almost always answer.

With the Tigers up 11-8 with 1:28 to play in the opening frame, Wolf went hard to the basket and was fouled. His shot fell and drained the foul shot to tie the game at 11-11. Another old-fashion three-point play, this time from Byrd, gave the Cardinals a 14-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, however Irwin connected on the easy layup to bring the Tigers back to one.

Up by one, Big Red extended its lead to 18-15 as Wolf took the gorgeous dish from Hyatt and found the easy layup. However Ridgefield came storming back as Brady hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Tigers the 21-18 lead.

This time it was Greenwich’s turn to answer, as Wolf was fouled on his shot attempt. The bucket counted and he hit the foul shot to tie the game at 21-21 with less than five minutes to play in the half.

With two minutes to play in the half, Ridgefield grabbed the four-point lead, as Brady once again calmly sank the three-pointer, however Povinelli game up huge for Greenwich and immediately answered with a three-pointer of his own to cut the lead to 29-28.

A running layup in the pain by Golden reclaimed the lead for GHS, 30-29.

With the victory, Greenwich upped its overall record to 20-2 on the season, while the Tigers fell to 17-5.

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