CHATHAM, NJ - It was the kind of game that a senior would play on one good leg to win.
Chatham guard Maddie Hartnett proved that when she made her exit from the Cougar girls basketball program with a heroic performance, fighting through the pain in her left thigh to score a game-high 22 points and take the team as far as it would go on Tuesday night before a sold-out crowd in the CHS gym
Hartnett's final points of her Chatham basketball career came on a drive to the rim (see below) with 2:17 let in the fourth quarter, tying the game in what would be a 42-36 loss to Warren Hills in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state tournament final.
"That's what you expect out of your senior," Chatham coach Joe Gaba said. "You want your senior to go out and say I'm not going to lose this game. We came back from 10 down to get the lead. When you're fighting all game from behind, it's going to catch up to you."
Warren Hills (22-8) denied Chatham (23-6) its second straight sectional championship by sinking four free throws over the final 23 seconds to clinch it and avenge the Blue Streak's loss to the Cougars in the 2019 sectional final.
Hartnett had a hard time getting up from the floor with 19.5 seconds left in the first quarter after taking a shot to her left thigh. It was a struggle to compete from that point on for the 5-8 guard.
"I knew I wasn't coming out of the game," she said. "My teammates didn't let me hang my head. My thigh was killing me the whole time. Cougar Nation was cheering me on ever since I took that shot (to the leg) because they knew how much pain I was in. For them to be there for me, even in warmups before the second half, meant a lot."
Hartnett gave back to Cougar Nation in the third quarter after Warren Hills scored the first six points of the second half to take its biggest lead of the game, 27-17. That's when Hartnett matched the number on her jersey by fueling a 13-point run that gave the Cougars their first lead of the game. Hartnett scored 11 of the 13 points in the streak, starting with a 3-pointer from the top of the key off a pass from Shannon Donohoe (see below).
Hartnett followed with a pull-up bank shot (see below) and then put her body on the line with an all-out stretch on the fly to sink a layup before she fell to the floor. On the next trip down the court, Hartnett drew the foul and sank both attempts, cutting the deficit to 27-26.
Chatham freshman Meja Jaegerskog interrupted Hartnett's personal run by going hard to the rim for a basket that put the Cougars in front, 28-27, with 2:26 left in the period (see below).
Hartnett then capped the surge with a drive through the lane and a soft left-handed shot with 1:39 showing (see below) for a 30-27 advantage.
Chatham's staple - it's defense - was dented a little in the first half by the hot hand of senior guard Heather Laffan, who scored 13 of her team-high 19 points as the Blue Streak took a 21-17 lead into the halftime break. Laffan hit three of her four 3-pointers in the first quarter when she scored 11 of her team's 15 points.
"We just came out in the second half knowing it could be our last game," Chatham junior guard Tess Ford said. "We came out with energy. We knew it all had to start on defense. We had to get a bunch of defensive stops, from there our offense started to flow. We just couldn't finish it off."
Ford took on the job of covering Laffan in the second period, holding her to eight points over the final 24 minutes.
"We've always been a defensive team," Hartnet said. "We focused on that and we got good offense from it. We refused to give up. Cougar Nation lifted us up every time. Whenever we needed them, they were there."
COUGAR NOTES: In its last two seasons, Chatham went a combined 46-13 in reaching the 2019 state Group 3 final and playing in two Morris County Tournament championship games.
"It's a great season anytime you get 20 wins," Chatham coach Joe Gaba said. "We didn't walk away with any championships. Regardless, they have a lot to be proud of. We're with one another day-in, day-out. This is a really close-knit team and they brought back a winning culture, a winning attitude. This shows that when there's a family atmosphere, this is what you can do."
Chatham senior guard Maddie Hartnett ended the season with 456 points for a team-leading 15.7 scoring average. She hit 90 3-pointers on the season to end with 156 3-pointers for her career, which included 940 career points ... Tess Ford ended the game with seven points, five assists and two rebounds ... Carly Frohnapfel led the Cougars with seven rebounds and Shannon Donohoe cleared six boards and was credited with two assists ... Chatham was 23-0 when it scored at least 40 points and 0-6 when it scored fewer than 40.