CHATHAM, NJ - Twice this season, the Chatham girls basketball team has had a ranked team on the ropes. Twice the Lady Cougars let the game slip away.
The second time came Monday night when Hunterdon Central erased a four-point deficit and pulled out a 42-39 victory over Chatham - thanks to two 3-pointers by Peyton McNally in the final minute of the fourth quarter - on the opening day of the Cougar Classic.
"We just talked about closing games,' Chatham coach Joe Gaba said afterward. "We're young, but it's no excuse. We're young and talented, but we need to close games. Bottom line, that's two Top 20 teams that we had beat, one at a neutral site and one at home."
In its season opener against No. 20-ranked Newark Tech, Chatham held a 51-47 lead with 1:49 left, but lost the game, 53-52. Against No. 18 Hunterdon Central (3-1), Michaela Ford's free throw put the Lady Cougars up, 38-34 with 1:17 showing.
But McNally hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with a minute to go, slicing the deficit to 38-37 and then hit another 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to make it 40-38 for the Red Devils. Michelle Lalor's two free throws with 10.5 seconds showing gave Hunterdon Central a 42-38 advantage.
McNally hit six 3-pointers in the game and led all scorers with 19 points.
"The kid (McNally) can hit them, but the fact that we weren't communicating on that second-to-last play when we should have switched on the screen was a mistake we shouldn't have made," Gaba said. "We got killed on the offensive glass vs. Newark Tech and no doubt when I look at the film tonight we got beat on the offensive glass. We're trying to go for the ball rather than boxing out and then looking for the ball."
Chatham (3-2), which had its three-game winning streak snapped, trailed 31-23 before it put together an 8-1 burst to end the third period and cut the Hunterdon Central lead to 32-31. Liz Ford and Camryn Davies each hit a 3-pointer to fuel the run for Chatham.
The Lady Cougars continued their surge in the fourth quarter when Liz Ford converted a fast-break layup off pass from Chloe Blanc. Katelyn Scholehvar scored for Hunterdon Central before Veronica Kelly (13 points, 7 rebounds) sank two foul shots to give Chatham a 35-34 edge. Blanc followed with a steal that she took in for two points before Michaela Ford hit her foul shot for the 38-34 lead.
Veronica Kelly scores off an in-bound pass from Camryn Davies in the third quarter
Peyton McNally hits a 3-pointer with a minute left for Hunterdon Central