MONTVILLE _ A first-ever appearance in the sectional semifinals. Wins over Chatham, Morris Catholic, High Point, Jefferson, West Morris, Morris Knolls and Dayton. A school-record 22 victories.
In a week or two, Montville, saddened by a season-ending 54-42 loss to Old Tappan in North Jersey Section 1, Group III, no doubt, will look back and realize all that it has accomplished. The banner in the gym may not tell tales of titles - yet - but, one day in the near future, it most likely will.
"It's been a great season," Mustangs sophomore guard Emma Wax said. "We did so much. We had a fantastic senior class. I'm upset it's over."
Wax, whose 19 points led second-seeded Montville versus third-seeded Old Tappan, indicated why she and her teammates extended their season so far and toppled some highly regarded teams along the way.
"We love each other and bonded well," she said. "We picked each other up. There was a lot of positivity."
All of those elements were evident in the Mustangs' finale along with determination and the desire to fight until the last second. Montville (22-5) fell behind 15-7 in the first quarter but came within four, 26-22, at halftime as Wax and Amanda Gorski scored five points apiece.
The Mustangs trailed 38-30 at the end of three periods and cut the deficit to five, 40-35, midway through the fourth quarter. After that, Montville's shots did not fall. Old Tappan went 14 for 14 at the free throw line over the last three minutes. Montville got its last two baskets, both layups, over the final 31.1 seconds.
"I felt like we were in it the whole game," Mustangs coach Derek Lynn said. "My girls kept battling. My coaching staff never felt we were out of it because of the heart they showed throughout. We started out slowly and got back into it. We did that against Ramapo, too. We found our way through things early on and eventually found a flaw on offense."
Lynn noted that "the bench was really into the game" and that brought more energy into the nearly packed gym as did the enthusiastic student cheering section. The show of support by the fans certainly was another indicator of Montville's success.
Coming into the game, the Mustangs knew they'd have to take charge on the defensive boards to control Old Tappan, a team that relies heavily on second opportunities. However, Old Tappan, which had three players score in double figures, still got a good number of putbacks. Noelle Gonzalez topped the visitors with 16 points.
"There were a few loose balls. Some tipped passes," Lynn said. "Old Tappan is tough, physical and creates opportunities."
Five Montville seniors will graduate, including Jordan Strickland and Amanda Gorski. Gorski finished with 14 points and Strickland dropped in a layup with seven seconds remaining to complete the Mustangs' scoring.
"We lost by 12 but it doesn't show how hard we fought," Wax said. "We always give our best. We beat teams that we've never beaten this season. That means we can only keep getting better."
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