RIDGEFIELD -- The hug said it all.
Vito Montelli, the only boys basketball coach St. Joseph has known, sat one row behind his successor, Chris Watts, as the Cadets opened the season at the raucous gym of Ridgefield High Wednesday night, their gutsy 48-42 victory sealed with a tacit gesture between the two men.
The silence that befell the Tigers' Lair -- Ridgefield's rowdy student section, which occupied a quarter of the available bleacher seats -- also spoke volumes.
A 26-point performance from star senior forward Kurt Steidl was wasted as the Tigers submitted an otherwise dreadful shooting performance and watched a slim lead melt away in the second half, the Cadets cracking their trademark zone and winning the battle of the boards.
"For any coach, (whether you're) starting your career, or in the middle of your career, coming into Ridgefield, with this great team and this great coach that they have -- I'm happy for myself but I'm more happy for the kids," said Watts, who played for Montelli before serving as his assistant coach for many years. "I've been around (Montelli) for so long and we've had games like this, that we dig out. We don't have to say anything. He didn't say a word. I didn't say a word. I just knew what that embrace meant.
"For him to be behind the bench the whole game, it just felt like we had his support."
The Cadets, who trailed 22-16 at the half, seized control with an 18-8 run in the third quarter. Double-digit scoring efforts from Quincy McKnight (10 points), Erick Langston (12) and Jonathan Dzurenda (11) headlined a balanced output for which the Tigers couldn't find an answer.
"We defended a lot better in the first half," said Ridgefield coach Carl Charles. "The only thing I was disappointed with defensively in the second half was giving up some garbage rebounds. For being a little smaller than us, St. Joseph outrebounded us at some strategic times to get back in the game. And if you watched us in the preseason, we never shot the ball like this. We lit it up in the preseason. But it's pressure, it's a packed gym. Most of our guys, with the exception of Kurt, were off their game tonight."
Steidl drew his fourth foul on a charging call with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter, wiping out a bucket that would have cut the Tigers' deficit to 36-34. After sitting through a timeout and one possession, he played the final 4:49 with four fouls.
ST. JOSEPH (1-0)
Quincy McKnight 3 2-4 10; Erick Langston 4 4-5 12; Jonathan Dzurenda 5 1-1 11; Raekwon Reid 2 2-2 7; Judeniek Florian 0 4-7 4; Stephen Hashemi 1 0-0 2; Kahlil Smith 0 0-0 0; Jake Pelletier 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 13-19 48.
Kurt Steidl 8 9-9 26; Jeff Racy 1 0-0 3; Dan Greenberg 0 1-2 1; Matt Brennan 1 0-0 2; Patrick Racy 2 1-2 5; Jon Hicks 1 1-2 3; Andrew Barton 0 0-0 0; Zach Ward 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 12-15 42.
RIDGEFIELD 11 11 8 12 -- 42
ST. JOSEPH 8 8 18 14 -- 48
3-pointers: SJ -- McKnight 2, Reid; R -- Steidl, J. Racy.