ORANGE, NJ - One down, 19 to go.
The Chatham girls basketball team showed some of the toughness it will need if it hopes to reach its goal of becoming a 20-win team this season, scoring a 42-36 victory over a tall and strong Orange team on Monday.
"They're a very physical team," Chatham senior forward Olivia Diaz-Saavedra said. "Rebounding was tough, but we pulled through. It would be nice to win at home, but winning on the road was even better. We knew they were going to be a tough team to beat."
The Lady Cougars (1-1) moved out to a 14-5 lead about five minutes into the first quarter. Morgan Monson scored inside off a pass from Cassandra Falone, who then drove for a basket and was fouled as she scored. The junior guard sank the bonus free throw.
Falone, who led all scorers in the game with 20 points, also drove the baseline and converted a fast-break layup in the opening surge for Chatham. Shea Matta dropped in a 3-pointer and also contributed a foul-line jumper off a feed from Chloe Blanc.
Falone continued to fuel the offense in the second quarter, opening the period with a 3-pointer from the right wing. She then scored in the lane off a pass from Monson to make it a 19-10 Chatham advantage.
Sophomore Michelle Connolly provided a spark off the bench with a layup seconds after she entered the game. Emily Walczyk's back-door layup on a pass by Veronica Kelly pushed the lead to 24-15. Chatham took momentum into the break after Falone scored inside off a Kelly pass and Connolly converted a fast-break layup fed to her by Diaz-Saavedra.
Falone's 14 points over the first two quarters produced half the points for Chatham in its 28-17 lead at halftime.
"I was taking the shots they were giving me," Falone said. "I think we got all the nerves out from the first game and we felt more comfortable out there. We were ready to play from the start."
Orange managed to cut its deficit to eight points, 33-25, entering the fourth quarter. Tornadoes guard Imani May scored the first five points of the final period to make it 33-30.
"I thought we should have put them away earlier in the game," Falone said. "We can't let teams get that close. Other than that, we did play well and we did put them away at the end."
Walczyk ended the fourth-quarter drought by driving hard to the basket for a layup. Blanc then grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. Falone scored off a long in-bounds pass from Matta to make it 39-32 for Chatham with 2:16 showing.
"We were definitely trying to focus on defense the whole game, especially defensive rebounds," Walczyk said. "They're a very strong rebounding team. Our main focus was improving our defense. We became a little stagnant on offense, but we pulled it out."
Orange could easily have won the game at the foul line. The Tornadoes only made 32 percent of their free throws, sinking just six of 19 attempts. Chatham made six of its 12 free throws.
Cassandra Falone finished a fast-break layup in the first half of Chatham's victory over Orange in video below