Cedar Creek High School had a 15-point cushion over Absegami High School and looked to be firmly in control heading into the 20-question Lightning Round - the final round - of the Atlantic County Consumer Bowl competition, held Jan. 25 at Cedar Creek in Egg Harbor City.

The Pirates were quick to the buzzer early in the round, increasing their lead by 10 with each correct answer. But midway through, Absegami surged back. Cedar Creek team member Hari Desai, of Egg Harbor City, who had tried to keep score in his head but lost track, felt the tension building.

With just two questions to go, the host noted how even the teams were. Desai's nerves peaked.

"We didn't know (our score)," Desai, 16, said. "When (the announcer) said 'Oh this is so close,' I was having a panic attack."

But Desai managed to fight through his jitters, nailing the final two questions to give Cedar Creek a narrow 135-115 win. In addition to Cedar Creek and Abesgami, Oakcrest High School, Pleasantville High School and St. Joseph High School in Hammonton participated in the tournament.

The Consumer Bowl is an annual educational competition for high school students in New Jersey run by the state Division of Consumer Affairs that quizzes students on their knowledge of topics ranging from financial literacy to advertising tricks.

This was the second year the three-year-old school has participated in the Consumer Bowl. While Cedar Creek has already emerged as an athletic standout in South Jersey, this was its first win in academic competition, said adviser John Gazo, who also advises the Math Club.

"This is our first academic win, nothing to do with sports, something up here that we won," Gazo said, pointing to his head.

Cedar Creek's team is made up of captain Leah Filardi, Desai, Rachel Parsons, Tim Bridel and alternate Dario Colon, all of whom participated in the event last year.

Experience was on the team's side at the competition, Parsons said, and so too was the crowd.

"This year, we were really confident," said Parsons, 16, who lives in Mullica Township. "It was our school, so we wanted to represent."

Cedar Creek may be strong, but Absegami's quintet of captain Aubrey Del Re, Justin Pirrotta, Miranda Darling, Nicole Goodwin and alternate Thomas Delany were no slouches, and even pulled ahead of the Pirates at a few points during competition.

Adviser Dawn Kosko said she believes her students knew the material as well as Cedar Creek, but they simply couldn't keep up with the Pirates' brisk pace.

"It was just who got to the buzzer faster," Kosko said. "I was really proud of our team, they knew it, and just Cedar Creek had somebody that was a little quicker on the buzzer."

All but Bridel will return to Cedar Creek's team next year, making the Pirates the team to beat in local competition. With the county title in hand, they advance to the Southern Region competition, which will be held April 18.

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