CHATHAM – Cassandra Falone finished with 24 points for the Chatham girls basketball team against Summit, but her most significant contribution was a long pass down the floor to Olivia Diaz-Saavedra in the game’s closing seconds.
Diaz-Saavedra, a senior forward, got the ball on the run and converted a layup with five seconds to play to preserve Chatham’s 51-47 victory on Saturday. The Cougars (6-3) received eight points from freshman Veronica Kelly and six from Diaz-Saavedra to nail down the game.
The Cougars appeared to be in cruise control on their way to their fourth consecutive victory and held a 48-34 advantage after freshman Chloe Blanc’s layup with 3:25 to play. Summit (4-4), which had trailed since Falone’s 3-pointer with 2:50 to go in the first quarter, snapped an 8-8 deadlock, did not go down quietly and closed out the game on an 11-3 run.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Jenny Martino, who finished with 13 points for the Hilltoppers, allowed Summit to get to within 49-47 with 14 seconds left in the game. When Chatham inbounded the ball, Falone received the ball and pinned in the corner along her own baseline, alertly spotted Diaz-Saaveda breaking down the floor.
“The pass to Olivia, it was risky,” said Falone, who accounted for five of Chatham’s seven 3-pointers. “But I mean, I really don’t remember what I was thinking in that situation. I was just reacting. (Diaz-Saavedra) is quick also and I knew that if I threw it long that she would be able to get to it. She did and she got a layup.”
“Anytime you play against full court pressure, you have to look forward because they’re pressing everyone in the back,” Chatham coach Joe Gaba said. “We just set up our little inbounds play to get (Diaz-Saavedra) or Chloe (Blanc) open. We just wanted to release one of the forwards and it just worked out.”
Chatham built a 43-24 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Falone, who was 7-of-8 from the foul line, hit two free throws and then canned a 3-pointer from the right wing. With the Cougars on possession of a 48-34 advantage with 3:35 to play, Summit mounted its comeback.
Martino sank two free throws and Cassidy O’Malley, who finished with 19 points, delivered a 3-point play and then canned a turn-around jumper in the paint with :55 to play to bring Summit to within 48-41. Falone made good on the front end of a one-and-one with 49 seconds remaining to give the Cougars a 49-41 cushion. But two 3-point shots from Martino got the Hilltoppers to within 49-47 with 22.9 showing on the clock.
“We kind of had a mental lapse and let them catch up a little,” Falone said. “And we have to not let that happen, but we did pull it out and we got the win and that’s what’s most important. They’re a good team and they can also finish. They got hot and hit two threes in a row-under pressure and that was impressive. But making those mistakes now is better than making them at the end of the season. We just had a mental lapse. It was a pressure situation, but getting it all out now will be helpful in the future.”