Cedar Creek's (24) Kristine Miller grabs a rebound against Gloucester City's (25) Madison McClintock , right during South Jersey Group I girls basketball title game at Cedar Creek High School Tuesday,March 6, 2012.

Edward Lea

Kristine Miller didn't plan to spend much of her weekend thinking about tonight's game.

The Cedar Creek High School junior and her teammates will play the biggest game of their brief high school basketball careers. The Pirates play Whippany Park for the state Group I championship at 6 p.m. at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.

Both the Pirates (25-4) and Whippany Park (25-5) are competing for their first state title. It would be the first in any sport for Cedar Creek, which is in its second year of existence. The Pirates are made up mostly of sophomores.

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Miller, a 6-foot forward, said Friday that she wouldn't dwell on the game.

"I probably won't think about it until the day comes," Miller said. "I take each game as it comes and go from there."

Whippany Park's offense is sparked by senior Olivia Dudley, the school's all-time leading scorer with more than 2,000 career points. Dudley scored 26 points in the Wildcats' 58-41 semifinal win over Cresskill. Fellow senior Lauren O'Connor added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Cedar Creek has plenty of offensive power. Miller has averaged 22.6 points in the postseason. Sisters Mercina and Morgan Stefanski have hit a combined 15 3-pointers. Mikila Stefanski, another sister, has been stellar from the foul line (15-for-20).

Both teams can move the ball quickly, shoot from anywhere on the floor and score lots of points.

"We want to make sure they're not open. We've really got to step up our defense," Cedar Creek coach Francine Raph said. "Whoever plays the best defense wins. That's how I'm approaching the game."

For the first time in the state tournament, Cedar Creek struggled to hold a commanding lead against Central Jersey champion Metuchen in their state semifinal. The Pirates won 54-42, but the game showed them what needs to be tightened up for the state final.

In the second half of the semifinal, the Pirates committed 11 turnovers.

"We were a little sloppy," Miller said. "If we clean up our game and play the way we know how, play relaxed and have fun, we'll do fine."

In the South Jersey bracket, the Pirates won each of their games by 20 points or more.

Nerves affected Cedar Creek against Metuchen in the Pirates' first game away from their Egg Harbor City gymnasium.

"We can't get rattled," Miller said. "We just have to play our game."

Regardless of today's outcome, the Pirates have had a historic second varsity season.

"The pinnacle of high school sports is what we're in now," Raph said. "As they look back in a couple years, I think they'll see what a special season this is."

Contact Brittany Grugan:


State Group I girls basketball championship

Who: Cedar Creek (25-4) vs. Whippany Park (25-5)

Where/when: 6 p.m. today at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River

Tickets: $5 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens


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