Second-half burst lifts Chatham girls past Mendham

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

CHATHAM– Senior first home Kallan Murray scored four goals and triggered a four-goal, second-half run to lift Chatham to a 10-7 victory over Mendham in a regular-season contest between fervent Morris County girls lacrosse rivals.

Jaclyn Leto had a hat trick and Mary Kate O’Neill, Kelsey Perselay and Liz Hyde each added goals for the Cougars (4-2) in the contest held on the turf at Haas Field behind the Chatham Middle School.

Paige Russell, Maggie Sinzer and Ally Messinger scored two goals apiece for Mendham which drops to 5-2 on the season.

The contest was tied 5-5 at halftime. Chatham took control by scoring five consecutive goals to build a 9-5 advantage. Three of the Cougars’ goals came off Murray’s stick and two were from passes by Hyde. Leto also added a goal to make it 9-5 with 13:10 left in the contest and put the Minutemen in a hole from which they couldn’t recover

Chatham’s Kallan Murray works her way to the cage during Friday’s win over Mendham.

“It really came from our heart,’’ O’Neill said of the second-half effort. “We knew coming into this game it was going to be a real tough one. We all wanted it so bad especially since we were just coming through a couple of really tough games the past week. We wanted to get this and keep the momentum going.’’

The inspiration for Chatham’s success was spurred by its stingy defensive effort. The Cougars held Mendham’s top scorer Universityof North Carolina-bound Ally Messinger to two goals. Chatham employed junior defender Kit Whiteman to face guard the quick and dangerous opponent. Her teammates gave her plenty of help when Messenger received the ball in a dangerous spot.

“Kit Whiteman worked really hard and it set us all on fire,’’Murray said. “We have such a great unit on defense and it’s made such a great connection through all of us.

 “(After halftime) we knew it was like 0-0 and we had to bring it just as hard if not harder in the second half. It (the halftime talk) was a group pump up. Everyone got fired up and we took it to them.’’

Despite the best efforts of Mendham goalkeeper Abby Witczek, Chatham puts a goal in the back of the net.

Chatham got off a good start to begin the game. The Cougars led the contest 5-2 in the first 11 minutes of the game, but Mendham rallied to tie the contest as it moved close to halftime. When Sinzer connected to make it 5-all with 1:57  left, it looked like the momentum was ready to turn Mendham’s way.

Murray and her Chatham teammates wouldn’t let it. The senior first home scored three consecutive goals during the first 11 minutes of the second half. Two of her scores came off crease feeds from Hyde and another from O’Neill.

Leto is always a threat to score and usually draws a crowd whenever she touches the ball. As the season has progressed, the Cougars have been getting more proficient in creating scoring opportunities without the standout senior swinging a stick

“I really worked off Jaclyn a lot,’’Murray said. “I noticed in the first half when they were coming — when they were face guarding her —  I ran right off her back and got open. I think Jaclyn saw that and she did everything she could do for us to get open.’’

When it came to shooting, Murray just wanted to put the ball in a spot where Mendham’s quick and fearless keeper Abby Witczek couldn’t stop it.

“She’s very good, very dynamic,’’Murray said. “We were trying to shoot on her off hand.  …  You can go high on her but she’s dynamic and able to jump so I just tried to keep it from her.’’

Chatham’s Mary Kate O’Neill watches her free position goal attempt hit net as the disappointed Mendham defense looks on.

It also helped that the Cougars were winning their share of draws. During the early run, O’Neill was able to pull the ball against Mendham’s talented center Paige Russell and direct the ball where her Chatham teammates could get possession and initiate their transition game.

“We definitely tried to switch it up wherever we could and keep the other team guessing,’’ O’Neill said. “I was just getting direction and Liz Hyde and Jackie (Leto) were doing such a good job getting off the circle.’’

Leto made it a 4-goal game when Brittany Marriott fed her from the top of the restraining box and she put in a top corner shot to make it 9-5 with 13:10 left

After gaining a four-goal advantage and Chatham goalkeeper Hannah Reader made a thrilling save on a Mendham free possession, the Cougars were more judicious in their playmaking and shot selections and used the clock to their advantage

Chatham’s Liz Hyde looks for a teammate as Mendham’s Paige Russell defends in first half action.

 It didn’t stop Mendham from chipping away at the lead. Maria Salerno scored unassisted with six minutes left to make it a 3-goal game and Messinger, who scored her first goal in the opening minutes, connected again with 1:27 left.

However, Reader stopped another Mendham shot just inside a minute. Chatham cleared the ball up field against the deflated Minutemen and Kelsey Perselay put a cap on the victory by scoring with 1.4 seconds left to make it a 10-7 final.

“It was a big game,’’ O’Neill said. “Everyone kept the momentum going. It’s always amazing to beat a team like (Mendham).’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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