MONROE TOWNSHIP — Mercina Stefanski of the Cedar Creek High School girls basketball team watched three hours of video of Marina Mabrey of Manasquan on Tuesday night.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Stefanski said. “She’s a very dynamic player.”
Mabrey was even more impressive in person Wednesday night.
The 5-foot-11 junior scored 30 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five steals to lead Manasquan to a 65-48 win over Cedar Creek in the state Group II semifinal at Williamstown High School. Sophomore forward Casey Thomas scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Cedar Creek, who finished the season 24-5.
The loss ended an era for Cedar Creek. It was the last high school game for the Stefanski quadruplets. Sisters Mercina, Mikila, Morgan and Monique have been the mainstays of the program the past four seasons. The Pirates won two South Jersey titles and a state championship during their tenure. Cedar Creek opened in 2010 and the Pirates girls were one of the school’s first varsity teams.
“The things we’ve done schools take years to accomplish,” Morgan said. “We played our hearts out, and I couldn’t have ended our senior year any better.”
Manasquan (25-5) is the favorite to win the state Group II title and a top contender to win the Tournament of Champions. An enthusiastic group of Cedar Creek fans made the trip to Williamstown to watch the game.
Manasquan made things tough for the Pirates from the start. The Warriors started quickly, jumping to an 11-0 lead. Mabrey scored seven of those points. Cedar Creek committed 10 first quarter turnovers.
“That changes everything,” Cedar Creek coach Fran Raph said of falling behind. “We played our worst quarter of the season. We just made a lot of mistakes.”
Cedar Creek methodically worked its way back into the game. The Pirates began the second quarter with a 12-3 run to take a 16-14 lead and force Manasquan to call timeout. Mercina, Mikila and Jahniece Jaffe sank 3-pointers during the run.
But just as she did the entire game, Mabrey brought Manasquan right back. It seemed every time Cedar Creek did something well, Mabrey did something better. Mabrey sank a jumper with a 3 minutes, 35 seconds left in the second quarter to tie the game and start a 12-2 run that gave the Warriors a 26-18 halftime lead.
Cedar Creek never got closer than seven points in the second half. Mabrey sank 10-of-12 foul shots in the third and fourth quarters to preserve the lead.
“She is their whole team,” Raph said. “She’s an All-American. What are you going to do?”
The Cedar Creek fans chanted “We still love you” as the final minutes ticked off the clock. Raph walked to the locker room with her arm around Mercina.
The Pirates were the final Cape-Atlantic League boys or girls team to play this season.
“We’re not crying because we (lost),” Mercina said. “We’re crying because it’s over.”
And even though the quadruplets graduate, the Pirates should still be among the CAL’s best next season with Thomas and 6-2 sophomore Fatimah Blackwell (four points and eight rebounds).
“I think we’ll play a different game,” Raph said, “but I have a lot of juniors and sophomores who want their chance to shine.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Cedar Creek 4 14 18 12— 48
Manasquan 11 15 21 18 — 65
CK — Me. Stefanski 1 2-2 5, Jaffe 1 1-2 4, Mi. Stefanksi 3 4-6 11, Mo. Stefanski 4 2-2 10, Thomas 5 3-4 14, Blackwell 1 2-8 4. Totals 15 14-24 48
MS — Mabrey 8 12-14 30, Sullivan 3 2-4 8, Ford 2 1-2 6, Hageman 6 0-0 13, Clark 1 2-2 5, Masonius 1 0-0 3. Totals 21 17-22 65
3-pointers: CK – Me. Stefanski; Jaffe, Mi. Stefanski, Thomas; MS – Mabrey (2), Ford, Hageman, Clark, Masonius.
Records: Cedar Creek 24-5; Manasquan 25-5