The most exciting player matchups are also the biggest in today's Cape-Atlantic League girls basketball tournament semifinals.
Each of the four remaining teams feature some of the area's most dominant post players.
Second-seeded Cedar Creek (19-3) No. 5 in The Press Elite 11, plays No. 11 Holy Spirit (18-5), the third seed, at 5 p.m. at St. Augustine Prep.
No. 1 Ocean City (19-3), ranked sixth in the Elite 11, plays fifth-seed Sacred Heart (18-6) in the 7 p.m. semifinal. The winners advance to the CAL championship game at noon Saturday at Richard Stockton College.
The semifinal games are highlighted by players 5-foot-11 or taller, each of whom lead their respective teams in scoring and rebounds. They are Ocean City's Julia Duggan, Sacred Heart's Kennedy Johnson, Cedar Creek's Kristine Miller and Holy Spirit's Gina Lewis and Annie Wenz.
In many of their regular-season games, their size and strength is unmatched. Not today.
"Each team is designing their defensive game plan around stopping their opponent's post play," Sacred Heart coach Steve DiPatri said. "By the same token, each coach is trying to figure out how to get the ball to their post player."
In a rematch of last year's CAL title game, the Lions will play Ocean City. Both teams are slightly different than the teams that played a year ago in Sacred Heart's 44-43 win. Last season, the Lions were unbeaten against league opponents. Ocean City hasn't lost to a CAL team since that day.
There is one constant on both teams - their returning 6-2 centers.
Sacred Heart's Johnson, a junior, leads the league in scoring and rebounds (19.8 points, 13.5 rebounds). Ocean City's Duggan is a senior who averages 16.2 points and 11.3 rebounds and will play college basketball for Rider University.
Historically, the CAL has been a guard-oriented league. Teams with the best backcourt were favored in big games. This particular group of players has skewed that slightly.
It's not just height. It's talent. Duggan, Johnson, Miller, Lewis and Wenz are all playmakers counted on by their teams in key situations.
"We have to play really strong. We have to not only do our best down low but also support our guards, rebound well and put shots back up," Lewis, a senior, said.
Each of the five centers or forwards are aware of their role in their team's success in this tournament. The game's tempo, rebounding and foul trouble could all play a factor.
Holy Spirit has a slight advantage in that it has not one, but two strong forwards in Lewis and Wenz, both 6-feet. Lewis scores 11.1 points and Wenz 11.6. In Friday's first-round game against Millville, the duo combined for 24 points and 29 rebounds.
"Annie and I play really well together," Lewis said. "If I miss a shot, she rebounds and puts it up. If she misses, I rebound it and put it up. We complement each other well."
Lewis and Wenz will be primarily responsible for containing Cedar Creek's Miller, the defending Press Player of the Year. Miller, the shortest of the bunch at 5-11, averages 17.5 points and led the Pirates to a state Group I championship last winter.
Though they've faced each other only a handful of times on their high school teams, the girls are all familiar with each other through AAU or recreational leagues.
They are friends and teammates outside of school.
Miller, a senior who will play for Fairfield University, looks forward to the challenge of posting up against players of similar size and capability.
"It's just going to help us prepare for the next level. I love playing against (all of them)," Miller said. "I'm happy that in my last hurrah I can play against the best post players in (the CAL)."
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Today's Cape-Atlantic League girls basketball semifinals
5 p.m.: (2) Cedar Creek (19-3) vs. (3) Holy Spirit (18-5)
7 p.m.: (1) Ocean City (19-3) vs. (5) Sacred Heart (18-6)
Where: St. Augustine Prep
Tickets: $5 for adults and $3 for students
Inside info: Cedar Creek has another weapon aside from Kristine Miller in its arsenal - 3-point shooting. The Pirates average 4.7 baskets per game from beyond the arc and sank a season-high 11 in a game against Willingboro on Feb. 10. … Holy Spirit junior guard Summer Crilley has averaged 16.8 points in her last five games and has contributed in nearly every other statistical category. … Ocean City hasn't lost to a Cape-Atlantic League team since last year's championship game, a 44-43 loss to Sacred Heart. The Red Raiders are 31-2 against CAL teams in the past two seasons. … Sacred Heart senior guard Mandy Buirch averages 12.0 points and leads the league in free throws made (105).
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