DENVILLE _ After falling behind 15-8 in the first quarter of its North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinal versus Ridgewood, Morris Knolls used exceptional man-to-man defense to limit the Maroons to four points over the next 16 minutes.
The top-notch defensive effort enabled the Golden Eagles to gain a three-point edge going into the closing quarter. It was so exceptional that the Morris Knolls scorekeeper put a heart around the zero in the scorebook that represented Ridgewood's points in the third period. The Maroons, no doubt, were upset after missing six free throws.
Suddenly, that slim lead disappeared. With 15.3 seconds left, junior forward Chloe Lennon made a close-range field goal to put fifth-seeded Ridgewood in control 33-32 and, soon after, the visitors reveled in a 35-32 victory over the No. 4 Golden Eagles.
"Ridgewood made a few shots in the fourth quarter that didn't drop in the second and third," Morris Knolls coach Rob Moore said. "It was a bounce here. A bounce there. We made some shots. We missed some shots. Our girls played hard. They played well. Our seniors led. They did all I asked them to do."
The Golden Eagles (16-10) seemed stunned and rightfully so because the momentum had shifted so markedly to their side. Outscored 16-10 in the fourth quarter, Morris Knolls last led 32-31 when Catt Reyes fired in an eight-foot jumper with 36.5 seconds remaining.
"There were little mistakes that shouldn't have happened," said Reyes, one of Morris Knolls' four seniors.
"We played our hearts out," another senior, Christi Conroy, said. "We couldn't ask for a better way to finish."
Morris Knolls, whose top scorer was Vanessa Elliott with 12 points, made it evident that it didnt want its season to end. The Golden Eagles hustled. They rebounded. A shot at 3.3 seconds did not fall.
For Lennon, nicknamed "Happy Feet" for moving her feet too much when they need to be stationary, the game-winning putback meant a lot. She may be shaking the endearing yet sometimes costly habit.
"The nickname's just a joke," Lennon said. "I've been working on my footwork. I channeled it when I needed to."
Maroons coach Karen Keyes was pleased that Lennon remained calm when the opportunity to score at a critical time arose. Keyes also praised her team for recovering from the struggles it experienced in the second and third quarters.
"We just went cold, especially in the third quarter," Keyes said. "When it came to crunch time, we were able to score down the stretch. Our motto is 'Trust in each other' and we did that. We adapted and were able to score."
For Morris Knolls, the loss, of course, stung.
Carli Van Riper, a senior, no doubt, will have the memory of the Golden Eagles holding Ridgewood scoreless in the third quarter. She'll also remember the camaraderie Morris Knolls had throughout a season in which it endured despite several injuries.
"There was a lot of energy," Van Riper said of the third quarter.
Elliott, the fourth senior, has much to take away from her high school basketball career.
"I'll remember how hard we played for each other, no matter what the result," Elliott said. "We all contributed. We got through some setbacks. I couldn't ask for more."
Conroy finished with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Emily Mitarotonda added six points. Brielle Sharry topped the Maroons with 11 points, including eight in the first quarter. Sharry had three 3-pointers.
Ridgewood moves on and will meet West Orange, which ousted top-seeded Morristown, in a sectional semifinal.
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