VOORHEES - The Cedar Creek High School girls basketball team has several potent perimeter shooters.
Juniors Mikila Stefanski and Jahniece Jaffe on Sunday reached the quarterfinals of a 3-point shooting contest that began with more than 100 participants at the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament at Eastern High School.
Also Sunday, Stefanski, Jaffe and the rest of the Pirates combined to make 11 3-pointers in their game. Unfortunately for the Pirates, mistakes outweighed that strong shooting. Cedar Creek, which is ranked fourth in The Press Elite 11, lost to Willingboro 64-50 in a S.J. Invitational quarterfinal game. The Pirates (16-3) committed 29 turnovers.
The Chimeras (17-2), who moved from sixth to third in this week's Elite 11, advanced to the semifinals and will play Sterling on Friday. Imani Stepney scored 21 points and had five steals in the win.
Jaffe, who scored 11 points off the bench, sank 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter to tie the score at 19-all. The Pirates briefly took their final lead of the game, 21-19, on a pair of free throws by Morgan Stefanski (10 points). Mercina Stefanski scored 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Despite having made numerous errors, Cedar Creek trailed by just three points at halftime and two points after the third quarter.
"Our turnovers killed us. Our shooting was on tonight; that definitely kept us in the game," Cedar Creek coach Francine Raph said. "It shouldn't have been (so close) at halftime."
The matchup between Cedar Creek and Willingboro was highly anticipated. Both are South Jersey Group II contenders and could meet again in the sectional semifinals.
The fourth annual South Jersey Invitational is a 24-team tournament designed to unofficially crown the region's best team. Six local teams were invited - Sacred Heart, Ocean City and Holy Spirit also lost in the quarterfinals. Lower Cape May and Our Lady of Mercy Academy also participated.
Even in victory, Willingboro coach Marchelle Coleman saw plenty of room for improvement. Cedar Creek managed to keep the score tight until midway through the fourth quarter.
"I know what we need to work on and what to prepare for (if we see Cedar Creek again). And to cut down on those 3s," Coleman said.
Cedar Creek resorted to its outside game in part because the Chimeras shut down defending Press Player of the Year Kristine Miller. Miller was limited to seven points but managed to grab eight rebounds and two steals. Sophomore Casey Thomas had seven rebounds in the second half.
However, the Pirates made uncharacteristic mistakes handling the ball. They forced passes they normally wouldn't make and at times took wild shots.
Willingboro's aggressive defense always forces turnovers. Minimizing them is the key to beating the Chimeras.
"We have to work on handling that pressure. We have to work on our composure and take our time and not force things," Raph said.
Cedar Creek was the final CAL team to be eliminated from the South Jersey Invitational. The Pirates, Ocean City and Holy Spirit already have clinched spots in the CAL playoffs, which begin next week.
The Pirates will regroup and focus on the CAL tournament. After that, it's onto the S.J. Group II playoffs, in which Cedar Creek is the No. 5 seed.
If the Pirates and Chimeras meet again, Raph hopes for a different outcome.
"It was nice to play them. I just wish we had a cleaner game," Raph said.
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