MONTVILLE _ Emma Wax leaped high, timing perfect, arm upstretched, to deny Chatham a last-second 3-point attempt, one that would tie the game.
Wax's effort capped Montville's 38-35 victory in an NJAC-American Division game on Thursday, Jan. 31 and indicated how she and her teammates felt: Let's end it here. No need for overtime.
"Everyone was super pumped up because of what happened last time," said the Mustangs' Dani Campbell, a senior forward, referring to a 23-point loss to the Cougars 27 days earlier. "We've been thinking about it. We talked about it all day. We prepared for this a lot. Our adrenalin was pumping."
Wax may have had the last big defensive play but there was so much more to the win that stretched Montville's winning streak - its longest this season - to four. The Mustangs stepped it up, especially over the last four minutes of the fourth quarter.
Dani Vito's basket with 3:23 remaining knotted the score, 35-30. Thirty seconds later, Campbell blocked a shot. With 2:35 left, Bella Vito netted a 3-pointer to give Montville the lead. Chatham, the defending Morris County Tournament champion, of course, wasn't going to yield without a fight. Wax, a junior guard, was swarmed by three defenders after grabbing a defensive rebound. She held onto the ball and was fouled. In the closing seconds, Bella Vito was surrounded by Cougars in the corner yet didn't panic.
"You're always worried at the end of close games," Mustangs coach Derek Lynn said. "We rewatched that last game against Chatham and we weren't ourselves. We played better in the second half tonight. Chatham's very talented and has good shooters. We had to defend better than the first game. I keep telling the girls every game that everyone needs to contribute."
That teamwork and what Lynn referred to "as little tweaks" to the 2-3 zone were key elements in the triumph that moved Montville's record to 10-8. One of those tweaks was extending the zone and getting up on the 3-point shooters as the clock wound down. In addition, the Mustangs remained calm at crunch time.
"Keeping our composure was important," Campbell said. "We kept reassuring each other. We could get the win if we were careful of what we were doing."
Chatham, which received 22 points from Maddie Hartnett, fell for the second game in a row. That doesn't concern its coach, Joe Gaba, at all.
"Montville came out and did a great job in the second half," Gaba said. "We couldn't get stops. They had more energy than us. They wanted it more than we did. We're young. We're hitting midseason bumps in the road. That'll help us as we refocus and get ready to defend the county title."
The Mustangs, in the words of Lynn, have "won close ones or been blown out."
That's why hanging on against a top-notch opponent like Chatham was pleasing to Lynn. On Saturday, Feb. 2, the Mustangs defeated Mendham by 10 points in a Morris County Tournament first-round game to stretch their winning streak to five games.
"When we want to be competitive, we're a very good team," Lynn said. "I hoped our early season schedule would make us tougher and prepare us for the long haul."
Bella Vito led Montville, which will clash with Chatham in the MCT quarterfinals, with 14 points and 10 rebounds versus Chatham. It was the third double-double in four games for the sophomore standout. Wax ended with nine points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
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