MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville girls basketball team's magical run has come to a stunning end.
The second seed Mustangs, who made history this season with the team's first divisional title in 40 years as well as the first Morris County title in 43 years, had an unblemished 27-0 record going into Friday's North 1, Group 3 semifinal against third seed Sparta.
And with the way Friday night's game started, which saw Montville race out to a nine-point lead, it appeared that the Mustangs were on their way to the sectional final.
But a Sparta squad- which had four freshmen in its starting lineup- didn't back down, and came back to take a one-point halftime lead. Ultimately it was an 18-5 game-closing run by Sparta which made the difference, as Montville fell, 62-47 in the sectional semifinals in front of a standing room-only crowd at Montville Township High School.
The loss ended Montville's historic season, which will go down as the best in program history. It finished with a 27-1 record, which is the most wins in program history.
While Friday's loss was certainly a difficult way for the season to end, coach Derek Lynn had nothing but good things to say about what his team accomplished.
"We had a few girls under the weather today, Bella (Vito) and Reese (Henderson), but they battled out there," Lynn said. "I give this team so much credit this year- they battled no matter what. We battled through some illness early in the year, Emma was sick for two weeks, and that was probably our best two week span as far as the teams we beat. I’m so proud of this team regardless of the result tonight.”
Montville was done in by Sparta's fourth quarter run, which was compounded by foul trouble for a few Montville players, and saw Dani Vito foul out of the game midway through the fourth. Since it was trailing in the fourth quarter- a rarity this season- it forced Montville to alter its strategy and play a more aggressive defense.
"In the fourth quarter (Sparta) hit shots, we didn’t hit shots to keep up with them," Lynn said. "We were doing things we don’t normally do during the season. We don’t normally press and trap and whatnot, but we’re trying to get the ball back there. Sometimes a little lead can turn into a big lead when you play like that, and that’s what happened.”
Freshmen Ally Sweeney and Brynn McCurry led the way for Sparta with 23 and 16 points, respectively. Freshman Bailey Chapman added 10 points for the Spartans. Sparta will face top seed Ramapo in the sectional final on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Ramapo High School.
Bella Vito netted 15 points for Montville, while Emma Wax- in what ended up being her final high school game- finished with 16 points.
In addition to Wax, it was the final game for seniors Livia Shine, Reese Henderson, and Gianna LaScala. While Wax- who is headed to Marist next season and finished with over 1,000 career points- certainly got the headlines, it was a group of leaders that embraced each of their respective roles, Lynn says.
“You think of seniors, and you think leadership and girls that want to win," Lynn said. "Every single senior- I give them so much credit- whatever role they had, they all had very unique roles, and they embraced their role to the fullest. That’s why we were successful this year. I’m so proud of them and what they did. They should be proud of their accomplishment as well.
"They’re the senior class that had this historic run. This is their historic legacy.”
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