CALDWELL, NJ — Up by one in with 15 seconds left in overtime, the Caldwell girls basketball team needed a defensive stop to preserve a victory. Unfortunately for the Lady Chiefs, a bugaboo for the game in rebounding yielded an open layup for Cedar Grove’s Kelly Zaccaria, who put back the shot for the 31-30 Cedar Grove victory.
“[It was a] weak side rebound,” said Caldwell head coach Mike Moussab. “She puts it in for the layup, it’s very tough.”
Cedar Grove’s loss is particularly heartbreaking after the effort the squad produced in the second half to tie the game up at 29. Taylor Stafford, Brielle Guarente, Ashley Bryant and Hope Casale sparked Caldwell on a 7-4 fourth-quarter scoring run that forced the overtime period.
“They’re a young team, but all year they’ve always had fight in them…they were saying it in game during timeouts, ‘we got this,’ and they played until the very end,” said Moussab. “Unfortunately, the ball didn’t bounce our way.”
Cedar Grove was particularly impressive in the first half, taking five-point leads in each of the first two quarters.
Ava Fernandez had an impressive performance for Caldwell, producing eight first-quarter points en route to a game-high 14 points on the evening.
“She had four threes for the game,” said Moussab. “It was a great shooting night for her and that’s the way to beat the zone is outside shooting.”
While Cedar Grove impressed in the first half, Caldwell’s defense was equally effective for the second half. The group produced seven turnovers in the final two periods and overtime to keep the game within striking distance.
“If we hold them to 31 points in four quarters defensively, I’m happy with that,” said Moussab.
Offensively, the Lady Chiefs will need to correct more schematically with their play, as 30 points will not cut it with counties and states coming up. Out of the 30 points on the evening, two players in Maggie Betros and Hope Casale managed to finish with 10 each.
“We’ve just got to find some corrections in the offense,” said Moussab. “I think we need to get to the basket more and finish at the free-throw line when we get there.”
Cedar Grove’s upset victory improves the Lady Panthers to 6-10 on the season. The group has now broken a two-game losing streak and will take on Shabazz on Friday afternoon.
Caldwell’s loss drops the squad to 9-8 on the season. The group is now 2-2 in its last four games with sights set on Verona on Feb. 6 with a chance to repeat a victory over a conference powerhouse.