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Chatham went down fighting in Group III final

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TOMS RIVER _ Defensively, Chatham gave every ounce of energy it could. And, if a couple more shots had gone down on the offensive end, the Cougars might well have come home with a state championship.

However, Mainland Regional was able to rally from a three-point deficit late in the third quarter, outscoring Chatham, 16-6, for the last 10 minutes of the game as the Mustangs took a 42-35 victory over the Cougars in the Group III girls basketball state championship game on Sunday, March 10 at the RWJ Barnabas Arena on the Toms River North High School campus.
 
Chatham, which had won five in a row, seven out of eight and 11 of 13 games coming in, took a 29-26 advantage on a 3-point field goal deep on the left wing from junior guard Maddie Hartnett 5:10 into the third period and a traditional three-point play from freshman forward Carly Frohnapfel with 2:19 left in the third quarter. But junior forward Kylee Watson made a free throw with 1:19 remaining in the third quarter to cut the Mustangs' deficit to two points, 29-27, entering the final period.
 
Sparked by from five points from Watson in the fourth quarter, Mainland outscored Chatham, 15-6, in the last eight minutes to slowly pull away from the game Cougars.
 
"I am very proud of my team. They left it all on the floor today," said Chatham 22nd-year coach Joe Gaba, who recorded his 400th career win a year ago January. "We played some outstanding defense and really making them search for a way to attack us successfully for a long while. It was an excellent effort by all our players."
 
For Chatham, it is the fourth time in the last 16 years that it has been a state Group runner-up. In 2004, the Cougars (23-7) lost to Haddonfield Memorial (Newark Shabazz won the Tournament of Champions that year), then Chatham fell to Rumson-Fair Haven in 2009 (St. John Vianney won TOC that year) and they were defeated by Shabazz in the 2010 final (Neptune won TOC that year), all in Group II.
 
Bumping up to Group III for the first time, Chatham was led by a strong effort from Hartnett, who scored a game-high 12 points and also contributed four rebounds, one assist and one steal. Also making an impact for the Cougars were senior guard Michaela Ford (six points, three assists, one steal), junior forward Shannon Donohoe (nine rebounds, three blocked shots), senior forward Olivia Mathern (four rebounds, two blocked shots), sophomore guard Tess Ford (eight points, one assist) and Frohnapfel came off the bench to grab four rebounds and score three points.
 
Chatham, which was bidding for its first-ever state group championship in girls basketball, won the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference American Division title with a 9-1 mark, the ninth time in the last 10 years the Cougars have accomplished that feat. In the Morris County Tournament final, Chatham was edged by eventual first-time MCT champion Morristown-Beard on a last-second basket, 34-33, after the Cougars held a 33-32 lead going into the final six seconds at the County College of Morris on Friday, Feb. 22. Chatham was the 2018 MCT champion.
 
In the North 2, Group III final on Monday, March 4, top-seeded and host Chatham had defeated second-seeded Warren Hills, 48-40. Two days later, Chatham earned a 41-38 victory over Pascack Valley in the North Group III semifinals. In that game, Chatham led, 34-26, after three quarters, but was outscored 9-1 in the fourth quarter to send the game into the extra session, 35-35.
 
"We played really, really hard and we really held them down defensively," said Hartnett. "But, like in the fourth quarter of the Pascack Valley game, we went through kind of a dry spell late in the game today. We were able to overcome that against Pascack Valley, but we just came up a little short against a very good team today. Still, our effort was there all the way and we gave it our full-out best for the complete 32 minutes."
 
Mainland Regional (28-3), which earned its first-ever girls group state championship, has now won six in a row and 20 of its last 21 games. The Mustangs won the Cape Atlantic-League National Division with a 12-0 mark.
  
The teams went back and forth in the first half with the Atlantic County team taking a 13-12 lead after one quarter and a 22-20 edge at halftime. Freshman guard Camryn Dirkes had nine of her 11 points in the first half to help give the Mustangs that slight advantage after 16 minutes.
 
A three-point field goal by junior guard Madison Hafetz off a pass from senior guard Taylor Dalzell gave the Linwood school the lead for good at 30-29 with 7:12 left in the fourth quarter. Dalzell had 11 rebounds and six points for Mainland and Watson, a 6-foot-3 junior center, had 11 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots for the South Jersey team.
 
Chatham, as a team, shot 25.5 percent (12 for 47) from the floor and the Cougars' tough defense limited Mainland to 29.7 percent (11 for 37) from the floor. The Cougars were 3 for 16 (18.8 percent) from 3-point range and Mainland was 6 for 13 (46.2 percent) from long distance. The shorter Cougars were outrebounded only 35-30 by the taller Mustangs, who now advance to the Tournament of Champions.
 
Sixth-seeded Mainland will play third-seeded Manchester Township, a 65-48 winner over Lincoln of Jersey City in the Group II state championship game Sunday, in a first-round TOC game at the RWJ Barnabas Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The first game that night in Toms River will match fifith-seeded University of Newark against fourth-seeded St. Rose of Belmar at 5:30 p.m.
 
In the TOC semifinals on Thursday night on the Toms River North campus, the winner of the Mainland-Manchester game will take on second-seeded Saddle River Day at 5:30 p.m. and the winner of the St. Rose-University game will play top-seeded Franklin Township from Somerset County at 7 p.m.
 
The TOC championship game will be on Sunday, March 17 at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway at 2 p.m. between the two girls semifinal winners. The boys championship game will be the nightcap of the TOC championship doubleheader and will be at 4 p.m. at Rutgers.
 
Chatham, off its excellent run in the states, returns three of five starters to next year's team and four of its top six players.
 
"We were in it all the way and in three of the four times in the final these last years, we have been right in it to the end (six-time TOC winner Shabazz being the exception in the 2010 Group 2 final)," Gaba said. "We feel we can compete with anyone and we really made Mainland work for everything they got today. It was an inspired performance by both teams, and I'm already looking ahead to next year and more great competitive games."
 
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***
Last modified onMonday, 11 March 2019 14:49
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