RANDOLPH, NJ - After it was over, Joe Gaba couldn't help but talk about the love for each other that he sees in his Chatham girls basketball team.
"I've had 12 teams get to the MCT final four and this team shows more love for each other than any team I've coached," Gaba said.
The bond that holds this team together was tested in the Morris County Tournament semifinal round against Hanover Park and the Lady Cougars held tight for a 42-38 win at the County College of Morris on Friday night.
Top-seeded and defending champion Chatham (18-5) will meet No. 3 Morristown-Breard (20-3) in the final, 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 at CCM. Mo-Beard topped Morristown, 32-30, in its semifinal.
Hanover Park (16-4) held a 34-32 edge with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter before Maddie Hartnett completed a three-point play and Olivia Mathern followed with a 3-pointer off a pass from Shannon Donohoe (see the video below) to stake the Lady Cougars to a 38-34 edge with 4:50 showing.
With a little under three minutes to go, Mathern made a play that epitomized the all-out effort of the Chatham team in winning this game. The senior made a horizontal dive for a ball that was headed out of bounds and sent it back in play with her outstretched right hand, giving up her body on the play.
"I was really happy to see her get credit," senior Michaela Ford said. "She always contributes, but she's the kind of player who doesn't always get noticed. She does the little things that you need to win."
Chatham was clinging to a 39-38 lead with 13 seconds left when Kelsey Stiles of Hanover Park went to the line for two free throws. The leading scorer for the Hornets with 15 points missed both shots.
Michaela Ford was then fouled with 11.9 seconds left and made the first free throw, but missed the second. But Donohoe kept the rebound alive and Ford grabbed the loose ball and Hanover Park was whistled for a technical foul. Ford sank both free throws with 8.5 seconds left to give Chatham the final points of the game.
"I've never been on a team with this much chemistry," Ford said. "We do everything together, so I think that helps when we're on the court. When we go down or another team is making a run, where a lot of teams might start blaming each other it helps that we just help each other out and stick together."
Michaela Ford, Shannon Donohoe and Olivia Mathern talk about the win
Junior guard Hartnett came through with another big game for Chatham, finishing with 17 points and scoring nine of the 19 points the Lady Cougars scored in the second half.
In the third quarter, Hartnett scored off a bounce pass from Michaela Ford (see below) before Ford drove to the basket (see below) for two points that gave Chatham a 29-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hartnett received an in-bound pass from Michaela Ford and nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key (see below).
LADY COUGAR NOTES: Chatham hit six 3-pointers in the game, three by Maddie Hartnett, two by Olivia Mathern and one by Tess Ford, outscoring Hanover Park, 18-6, on shots from beyond the arc ... Chatham and Morristown-Beard met on Jan. 28 in Chatham and the Crimson broke the Cougars' 7-game winning streak with a 61-49 decision. The game was tied 40-40 heading into the fourth quarter. Bridget Monaghan led all scorers in the game with 22 points for Mo-Beard. Hartnett paced Chatham in that game with 17 points.