RANDOLPH, NJ - The Chatham girls basketball team all taped the No. 4 to the back of their warm-up jerseys in honor of junior guard Chloe Blanc, who, two days earlier, had been lost for the season with a knee injury.
The timing of Blanc's injury wasn't the best for the Lady Cougars, who took on top-seeded Morristown in the semifinal round of the Morris County Tournament on Friday night at the County College of Morris.
Chatham came up with a good defensive strategy to slow Morristown's offense down, but couldn't overcome the loss of Blanc on the offensive end as it absorbed a 37-22 loss. It was the lowest point total of the entire season for the Lady Cougars and their third loss to the Colonials.
"Losing Chloe is huge, no doubt about it," Chatham coach Joe Gaba said. "Just because how good she is offensively for us. We have to get some of our role players to play a bigger role now. It's next man up. We have to have some kids step up. We have to have some of our freshmen grow pretty quickly."
Sophomore Olivia Mathern got the start in Blanc's place and freshman Hannah Kelly also saw increased playing time.
Chatham, normally a man-to-man team, came out playing a 2-3 zone and it worked pretty well as the Colonials were limited to just 17 points over the first two quarters. The catch was that Chatham scored just seven points in the first half and, after an opening basket by Veronica Kelly, were held scoreless over the final 7:25 of the second quarter.
That scoreless drought carried over into the third quarter when the Lady Cougars scored their first points on a foul shot by Michaela Ford with 4:22 left in the period.
"Morristown's strength is getting to the rim and the zone sort of protects us," Gaba said. "I thought we did a really good job of not giving them anything easy in their half-court offense. They got a lot of their points with their full-court press and in transition, but our half-court defense was pretty good tonight."
The offense, however, struggled all night. Chatham trailed, 29-11, heading into the fourth quarter when it scored half of its points - 11.
Veronica Kelly, a 6-1 junior, led the way for Chatham (13-10) with 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. She also connected for her first 3-pointer of the season with a shot from the top of the key.
"It really hurt us immeasurably I think (to lose Blanc)," Kelly said, "especially in the first half when we only scored seven points. We needed to drive and penetrate a lot more than we did. We held them to 37 points, the problem was our offense.
"It's going to be tough, but everybody has to step up right now. Chloe was such a huge part of our team and it's going to be tough without her the rest of the season. I think the big thing is that is that we can't let other teams push us around."
Gaba came into the season with lofty goals for this team, and he isn't giving up on them despite this latest setback. He's thinking about preparing his team for the state tournament.
"As I just told them in the room, I still believe we an win the section, no question about it," Gaba said.