Chatham girls’ basketball Head Coach Joe Gaba tried to fight back the tears of joy after his team mounted a miraculous comeback en route to a 49-48 NJSIAA Tournament, North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 semifinal victory over No. 4 Synder at home Saturday night.
“Our whole thing this year has been just keep fighting to the end,” Gaba said. “Play for that front of your jersey, play for yourselves, and play for your teammates, and play for your community. Just go out and fight to the end.
Down 15 with 5:48 remaining in the game, junior Riley Allen sank a bucket to make it 46-33 with 5:07 left in the affair that started an 11-0 Cougar run that sliced the deficit to 46-42 in favor of the Tigers with three minutes to go in the tilt.
Synder played keep away for a while, but top-seeded Chatham (18-10) played tight defense and stayed the course. It helped keep the game within striking distance.
Synder made one of two free throws before freshman Ella Kreuzer and sophomore Addison Barrett both scored baskets to narrow the margin to 47-46 with a little over a minute left in the game.
The Tigers again converted one of two from the charity stripe to make it a two-point contest with 0.53 ticks on the clock.
But that gave Allen the opportunity to move down the court, step to the side, and nail the thrilling game-winning three-pointer that caused the raucous home crowd to erupt in pandemonium with 2.4 remaining in the tilt.
The Cougar defense did the rest to thwart any attempt of a Synder comeback and win the game.
“In the state tournament, she’s been shooting the ball so well. For her to make that shot…there’s not a kid that works harder at her game every day,” Gaba said while chocking up. “She hasn’t had an off day probably in four months. It’s so deserving.”
Riley led the Cougars with 19 points while freshman Mia Semioli scored 13, including a halfcourt buzzer-beater at the half.
“I just saw we had a couple of seconds left, so I shot it,” Semioli explained. “I didn’t expect it to go in, but it was a great moment.”
Senior wing Kyra Rose dropped in a game-best 23 points for the Tigers.
The Cougars host Randolph on Monday in the Section 2, Group 3 final.
— Jerry Del Priore