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Facing an opponent with a penchant for heroics in its Class LL first-round matchup, the Shelton High boys basketball team showed off the grit it accrued in a season fraught with close contests.
The No. 18 seed Gaels traveled to the Tiger’s Lair to face FCIAC champions Ridgefield High, the No. 15 seed, after the Tigers hoisted the FCIAC league crown last week following a frenetic championship run that saw them sink a bevy of buzzer-beating shots.
But on Monday night, it was Ridgefield that was left looking for answers when the clock hit zero, as Shelton sophomore guard Brian Berritto’s fast-break layup as time expired gave the Gaels a stunning 50-48 victory.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a shot (like that), maybe in Biddy Basketball,” Berritto said. “But none bigger than this.”
Shelton (14-8) won at the buzzer for the second time this season. Overall, the Gaels have won three games by three points or fewer in regulation and three more in overtime.
“That’s what they’ve been doing all year long,” Shelton head coach Brian Gardiner said. “Look how many close wins we’ve had… It’s our second win at the buzzer. These guys are special, I told them a long time ago they’re special.”
It was Shelton High’s first state tournament victory since the 2000-01 season, when the Gaels vanquished Fairfield Prep, 62-55.
Up next, the Gaels will travel to New Haven to face second-seeded Hillhouse on Wednesday night at 7.
Ridgefield (17-7) trailed for the majority of the contest, but took a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter on baskets by Luke McGarrity and and Chris Longo.
Shelton’s Ryan Murphy then sank a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 45 with 1:50 left.
After Longo double-dribbled in the backcourt on the ensuing inbounds, Jeff Stockmal scored out of a Gael timeout to stake Shelton to a 47-45 edge.
Longo answered with a 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:14 left to play, before Dave Berritto drew a foul on the other end — making the second of two free throws to tie the game at 48 with 44 seconds left.
The Tigers then held the ball looking for the final shot, but Zach Esemplare’s running one-hander ricocheted off the left side of the backboard with five seconds left.
Armando Martinez snared the rebound and whipped an outlet pass to Brian Berritto at half court.
From there, the sophomore won a footrace with Luke McGarrity and Brenden McNamara to the right side of the rim — laying the game-winner up high off the glass at the buzzer.
“I was focused right on the rim, I saw the defender coming,” Brian Berritto said. “I knew I had to get it up. It went in, I thought I missed it, but it went in.”
Martinez led Shelton with 13 points, Stockmal chipped in 12 and Dave Berritto had 10. Brian Berritto added nine points.
For Ridgefield, McNamara and Longo had 14 markers apiece.