RANDOLPH, NJ - Senior Camryn Davies cranked up the music and her Chatham girls basketball teammates were seen dancing on the tables to High School Musical's "We're all in this together" in the post-game celebration.
Chatham coach Joe Gaba didn't need to see any dance moves motivated by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens to validate the feeling he had after his second-seeded Lady Cougars knocked off No. 2 Morris Catholic, 43-32, on Friday night in the Morris County Tournament semifinals played at the County College of Morris.
"As I said to them just now, I think for the first time in probably two years, it's the first time we've played together," Gaba said. "Each kid put their hand in the other's hand and said 'I have your back.' We certainly played that way. It was the first time we were truly functioning as one unit on the court."
The unified Lady Cougars will try to win the school's first-ever Morris County Tournament championship in the 44-year history of the MCT when it meets defending champion and top-seeded Morristown (18-2), 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23 at CCM. The Colonials defeated Jefferson in their semifinal on Friday.
Chatham (17-6) scored the final four points of the third quarter and then dominated with a 13-4 run in the fourth quarter to upend Morris Catholic (22-2) and reach the MCT final for the first time since 2012.
"It sounds like so cliche, but it was our will not to make the mistakes we've made in the past situations," Gaba said. "We took care of the ball in the fourth quarter. We didn't turn it over and we out-executed them on the offensive end of the floor. We did a really good job of spreading them out. It gave us driving room, it gave us pick-and-roll action. The kids executed what we wanted to do the whole game."
Senior forward Veronica Kelly scored seven of her game-14 points in the fourth quarter and talked about the determination and energy the team played with against Morris Catholic
In the third quarter, Morris Catholic held a 28-26 edge after Emma Duerr scored with 1:59 left in the period. But sophomore Hannah Kelly (9 points) scored on a floater in the lane (see below) and Michaela Ford sank two free throws to make it 40-38 for Chatham heading into the fourth.
Gaba noted that since Jan. 3, Chatham's defense was allowing 11.3 points per game in the first half and he was confident that it would help down the stretch.
"We just know our defense is going to stay solid and not get beat," Gaba said. "Our composure was the difference in the game."
The fourth quarter started well for Chatham with senior guard Chloe Blanc feeding Veronica Kelly for an inside basket as she was fouled. Kelly made the bonus free throw to complete the three-point play.
"Everyone contributed," Blanc said. "We were here last year and winning here shows that we came through adversity."
Duerr (12 points) scored to cut the Chatham lead to 33-30, but Hannah Kelly hit two big free throws with 4:26 to go (see below) and, after a Hannah Kelly block on the defensive end, Michaela Ford scored a layup to give the Lady Cougars a 37-30 lead with 3:42 showing.
Tess Ford practically clinched the game for Chatham with her drive to the basket (see below) that made it 39-30 with 2:10 to play.
Tess Ford talks about her big moment in the fourth quarter and the way the Lady Cougars played as a team below.
Veronica Kelly followed Tess Ford's basket by sinking two free throws with 1:17 to go and then hit two more with 13.8 showing.
"I think we just slowed down," Michaela Ford said of the fourth-quarter performance. "Sometimes we tend to rush things. Playing at a slower pace and not forcing anything allowed us to get easy looks. We really locked in our defense in the fourth quarter. We weren't going to lose. We were determined to win. It all came together with us focusing on playing defense."
LADY COUGAR NOTES: This will be the fourth MCT final for the girls program. Under Gaba, Chatham reach three straight county finals in 2010, 2011 and 2012, dropping the championship game to West Morris, Morris Catholic and Jefferson in that order.