CHATHAM, NJ - Cassandra Falone put on a dominating offensive performance for most of the game, but her 24 points would have been for naught if the Chatham junior hadn't used her court vision to make the play of the game.
Falone's long pass beat the press and Olivia Diaz-Saavedra collected the ball and took it in for a layup with seconds left as Chatham held on for a 51-47 girls basketball victory over Summit on Saturday.
"It was risky," Falone said. "I was just reacting to the situation. I knew if I threw it long (Olivia) was fast and she would be able to get to it."
What could have been a devastating meltdown for Chatham (6-3) turned into a sigh of relief against a Summit team that nearly pulled off a once-in-a-lifetime comeback.
When Chloe Blanc scored a fast-break layup off a steal and pass from Falone with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Lady Cougars held a 48-34 lead. Chatham had led by as many 17 in the final period. But the Hilltoppers just wouldn't go away.
Chatham held a 48-36 lead when Jenny Martino went to the line for Summit, shooting two, with 1:56 to play. Martino, who scored 12 of her 16 points in the fourth period, sank both foul shots. Cassy O'Malley then completed a three-point play and followed with a jumper. Martino's 3-pointer capped the 10-point blitz that sliced the deficit to 48-44.
Falone's foul shot with 49 seconds to go made it 49-44 before Chatham missed the front end of two straight one-and-one situations. That set the stage for Martino's 3-pointer that dropped with 16.9 ticks on the clock as Summit had cut it to 49-47.
After the timeout, Chatham got the ball to Falone. who was immediately surrounded by Summit players. She leapt and threw a long pass that dropped just past midcourt, where Diaz-Saavedra collected it and finished her drive to the basket.
"Cass made a great pass," Diaz Saavedra said. "I don't know if we got too comfortable out there. They're a good team and they made two big threes."
O'Malley, who finished with 11 rebounds, sparked the rally by Summit with her defense, which included seven blocked shots. Martino took care of the offense with her big threes.
"They have two very good 3-pointer shooters and we just lost her in transition," Chatham coach Joe Gaba said. "It's funny, because we practiced our transition D yesterday with a drill, securing the strong side. We just had two lapses there. They never gave up and we got a little too comfortable. We certainly haven't played our end-game situations too well the last few games. It's something we can definitely work on."
Falone was on her game from the start, knocking down three of her five 3-pointers in the first period. In the second quarter Liz Ford and Shea Matta each drained a 3-pointer, but the biggest boost for the Lady Cougars was provided by Veronica Kelly. The freshman center scored all eight of her points in the first half on offensive rebounds. She ended the game with eight boards.
"The one thing she can do is snag offensive rebounds and she's doing a good job of that, for sure," Gaba said.
With the victory secured, Falone assessed it more as a lesson learned for the Lady Cougars, who count on a number of young players to play quality minutes.
"I think it's subconscious (that the team may have let up with a big lead), but I don't think we realized they were catching up," Falone said. "There was a minute left and we were up by 11. We're generally a young team. It's better to make mistakes now than at the end of the season. It was a pressure situation and getting it all out now will be good for us in the future."
One of the five 3-pointers knocked down by Cassandra Falone
Cassandra Falone hits a 3-pointer in the first half vs. Summit