RANDOLPH, NJ - On the bright side for the Chatham girls basketball team, at least it wasn't a heartbreaking buzzer-beater that did it this time.
A year ago, Morristown-Beard won its first-ever Morris County Tournament championship with a one-point win over Chatham on a shot that dropped through as the buzzer sounded. In 2020, it became Montville's turn to win its first MCT crown and, again, Chatham was the team that ushered in the newcomers.
Chatham coach Joe Gaba tried to lighten the mood with a joke about how much he hates this tournament after the 40-27 loss Friday night at the County College of Morris.
"I told them, you lost two but this is number five for me," said Gaba, who stands 1-5 in MCT finals, winning the school's only county title in 2018.
Chatham senior guard Maddie Hartnett scored 11 of her game-high 15 points in the second half, but she didn't get enough help on the offensive end as the only other Cougar to score over the final two quarters was freshman Meja Jaegerskog, who scored inside with 54 seconds left in the third quarter (see below).
Hartnett opened the second half with her first 3-pointer of the game (see video below), staking Chatham to a short-lived 17-16 lead before Montville took control with a 10-0 run that made it 26-17 with 1:18 left in the third period.
The killer shot for Montville in that 10-point streak was a long 3-pointer from the top of the key by tournament MVP Emma Wax, who scored all 12 of her points in the second half.
Hartnett's 3-pointer in the first minute of the fourth quarter (see below) cut Chatham's deficit to 26-22 but the Mustangs closed out the game with a 14-5 run that included seven free throws by Wax.
"You have to give Montville credit," Gaba said. "They know what we're going to do and they know who to key on. We can't go into tournament situations where everyone knows that Maddie (Hartnett) and Tess (Ford) are the players to stop. We can't win games when we have three people scoring in the game. I know there were four, but that was a foul shot.
"We need points from other places. It's a learning experience. It stings for sure. There is still a lot to play for. We have a lot ahead of us. If we keep winning we're going to host a sectional final."
Chatham (20-5) has lost three meetings with undefeated Montville (25-0), ranked No. 9 in the state by NJ.com, and there is nothing mysterious about the results. In each game, the Cougars played great defense, holding the Mustangs to their three lowest-scoring win totals of the season - 38, 41 and 40. The only thing lacking for the Cougars was a more balanced offense.
In the three losses for Chatham vs. Montville, the Cougars scored 33, 35 and 27 points. The 27 points in the MCT final was not only its lowest point total of the season, but the fewest points scored by the Chatham girls basketball team in 59 games, dating back to a 37-25 loss on Feb. 21, 2018, to Montville in a regular-season game.
"There is nothing I can say that is going to take away the sting from this loss," Gaba said. "I remember back in 2010, we had lost in the county finals to West Morris and Caroline Murphy, who played at Gettysburg, she literally stood up in the room and she was like 'we're going to win the section and go to Toms River', and we did."
In the first half, Tess Ford hit both of her 3-pointers for Chatham (see video below) when the Mustangs took a 16-14 edge into the halftime break. After Hartnett's 3-pointer started the third quarter, turnovers allowed Montville to take charge.
"I thought for the first time all year we kind of lost our composure in the second half," Gaba said. "It was like the mind was willing, but the body wasn't. They were trying to make things happen. We were making some bad decisions for sure."
COUGAR NOTES: Chatham made just 6 of 32 shots from the floor in the game (18.7 percent) and hit 10 of 14 free throws. Maddie Hartnett sank 6 of 7 free throws and Meja Jaegerskog made 3 of 4 fouls ... Chatham sophomore Carly Frohnapfel was assigned to guard Montville's Emma Wax and held her without a point in the first half. Frohnapfel and Shannon Donohoe fouled out for Chatham in the final minute of the game ... The Cougars have faced a different opponent in each of their six MCT final appearances, losing to West Morris in 2010, Morris Catholic in 2011 and Jefferson in 2012. Chatham defeated Morristown for the 2018 title and lost to Morristown-Beard in 2019 and Montville this year. Jefferson, Morristown-Beard and Montville all won first-ever MCT titles vs. Chatham ... Chatham is 20-0 when it scores at least 40 points this season and 0-5 when it scores fewer than 40 ... Chatham opens defense of its North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state tournament crown when it plays host to Irvington, 7 p.m. Monday in the opening round of the state tournament.