WEST CALDWELL, NJ — The James Caldwell High School girls basketball team had a signature win on Friday with a last-second 69-67 victory over the previously unbeaten West Essex squad to advance to the Holiday Tournament Championship Game.

“They worked hard, they played together [and] they didn’t give up,” said Chiefs head coach Amanda Keenan.

The Chiefs were down by seven points in the final two minutes of the game to a resilient Knights squad. Refusing to quit, Carli Carroll, Lauren Sanderson and Emma Keupp sent the squad on a seven-point scoring run to tie the game at 67 with less than 30 seconds in regulation.

Sign Up for West Essex Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“We just talked about not giving up on each other and playing for 32 minutes, and I think they just went out there and played for 32 minutes,” said Keenan.

As time winded down and West Essex looked for the final shot, Caldwell was determined not to be denied. The ferocious defense that forced an unofficial 20 turnovers for the contest would get one more for the game’s biggest play.

Caldwell’s Carli Carrol took a steal the length of the court with 15 seconds left for the game-winning layup.

“[Carrol] made a huge play,” her coach said. “She went at it, and she was big for us all game.”

Carrol’s play put the icing on the cake for what was a phenomenal effort from the guard. She collected a game-high 24 points, 13 of which came in the second half to lead her squad to victory.

“It feels good to win a big game like this,” said Keenan. “It’s a different kind of win; it’s one of those wins where you had, then you thought you were out and then you come back, and they earned it.”

For West Essex, the loss negated what was an incredible comeback effort on the Knights’ end. After trailing in every quarter, the Knights dug deep to make it a game.

Trailing by six points at the start of the fourth quarter, the Knights used the precision shooting of Halle Aschenbach and Olivia Weiss to get back in the game. The duo combined for 15 of the group’s 18 fourth-quarter points to give West Essex an opportunity to claim a victory.

“You tip your hat to their two shooters,” said Keenan of the West Essex duo. “They turned it on after a poor first half.”

With their first victory under their belt for the season, the Chiefs will play the winner of the Cedar Grove and Verona matchup on Saturday in the Holiday Tournament Finals.

“It’s all about the momentum,” said Keenan. “We’re going to ride this wave.”

West Essex’s first loss of the season drops the squad to 2-1 as the Knights now look to take on the loser of the Verona and Cedar Grove matchup on Saturday in the consolation round of the Holiday Tournament.