RANDOLPH – For every basketball team, especially on the high school level, a rough shooting night is as guaranteed as anything that will happen over the course of a long season.
Unfortunately for the Morristown High School girls basketball team, that inevitable affliction from the floor came at the most inopportune of times.
Coming away empty-handed on three-quarters of its possessions in Friday night’s Morris County Tournament final, the top-seeded Colonials fell, 40-31, to third-seeded Chatham in a shocking upset at County College of Morris. Morristown – gunning for their second consecutive and fifth overall county crown – suffered its first in-county loss of the season in falling to 19-3.
In NJAC-United play, Morristown had previously defeated the Cougars on the road, 36-26, and won in their second match-up in the county seat, 40-35.
“It really did come at a tough time (to have a rough shooting night,” lamented Colonials coach Jimmy Pisciotto after the game. “I thought the girls played very well defensively actually, and when you find yourself behind six, seven points as a game goes on, you tend to press a bit. I think that happened to us.”
After a sluggish start on both sides, it was Morristown that hopped out to a 5-2 lead midway through the first, doing so with a left-wing three-ball from Tara O’Neill and a coast-to-coast driving lay-up by do everything senior guard Elizabeth Strambi.
But the Cougars would close the frame on an 8-1 run –a Strambi free throw the only thing interrupting the spurt – to take a 10-6 lead after one.
A follow-up floater off the glass by Strambi would move Morristown back ahead, 12-11, at the 5:24 mark, but tournament MVP Veronica Kelly responded with a left-wing three to put Chatham ahead by two. As it turned out, they’d hold onto that lead the rest of the way.
“All credit goes to Chatham, and they deserve it. It’s extremely tough to beat a good team like that three times. This definitely wasn’t a situation of us losing to someone we had no business losing to at all,” Pisciotto said.
Morristown center Kate Kolb would help Morristown draw to within one at the break, as a put back lay-up from her with one second left cut the deficit to 16-15.
Quick buckets by Michaela Ford and Hannah Kelly moved Chatham ahead 20-15 less than two minutes into the half, but Strambi would respond with a step-back three to bring the lead back to two.
Nicole Ferrara and Chatham’s Maddie Hartnett would trade layups in the final two minutes of the third, as the winners’ advantage had climbed to 27-22.
However, a left-wing triple by Ferrara with seven minutes left to make it 29-25 in the game was followed by a brutal six-and-a-half-minute scoreless run from Morristown. By the time an O’Neill three from NBA range with 28 seconds left stopped the bleeding, the damage was done as Chatham held an insurmountable 38-28 lead in the final minute.
Kolb and Strambi – who led Morristown with 11 points on the night – were both deservedly named on the all-tournament team following the game.
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