TOMS RIVER — Cheers could be heard from the locker room of the Cedar Creek High School girls basketball team even though the Pirates had just lost a lopsided Tournament of Champions game Tuesday night.
Cedar Creek had too much to celebrate this season to let one loss get them down.
Manasquan overwhelmed the Pirates and won a TOC quarterfinal 69-45 at Pine Belt Arena. Manasquan (31-2) will meet St. Rose in Thursday’s semifinal. Cedar Creek finished the season 26-5.
Despite the loss, Cedar Creek center Kristine Miller was one of the best players on the floor. The 6-foot-1 junior sank 10-of-16 shots scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots.
“Our mindset was to do as we could and put up a good fight,” Miller said. “They (Manasquan) are a college-caliber team. As a team, we put up a really good fight. We’re proud of our season.”
Cedar Creek had an historic season. The Egg Harbor City school won the state Group I title in just its second varsity season. Pirates coach Francine Raph is the first woman to coach a Cape-Atlantic League team to a state basketball title.
“It’s been amazing,” Raph said. “It’s too bad we even had to go to the Tournament of Champions, (but) most coaches never even get here.”
The TOC matches the six teams that won state group championships. Cedar Creek entered Tuesday’s game as the sixth seed and the underdog. Third-seeded Manasquan won the state Group III title. The Warriors feature senior Michaela Mabrey, who is headed to the University of Notre Dame and is the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year.
“Being the Group I school, you’re like the little kid on the block (at the TOC),” Raph said. “They’re 5-11, 5-11, 6-1, 6-1. We were 5-2, 5-4, 5-6. We knew going in how good they were. We were just going to give it all we got.”
The Pirates stayed within single digits for most of the first quarter. Miller scored all 12 of Cedar Creek’s first-quarter points on a variety of inside moves.
“I knew how good (Manasquan) was, so I tried to show my best,” Miller said.
But Manasquan’s full-court press proved to be too much for the Pirates. The Warriors forced Cedar Creek into 18 first-half turnovers and led 40-19 at halftime. Manasquan finished the game with 29 points off 23 Cedar Creek turnovers. Marina Mabrey, Michaela’s younger sister, sparked the Warriors’ defense with six steals and 25 points.
“This game is going help us,” Raph said. “It shows us what we have to work on in the summer to get to the next level.”
The Pirates never stopped playing hard in the second half. They emerged from the locker room already talking about next season. Cedar Creek has no seniors, so everybody will be back in 2012-13, and the Pirates’ state tournament run should only help them next season.
“The confidence we’ve gained throughout this experience has been incredible,” Raph said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Cedar Creek 12 7 15 11—45
Manasquan 23 17 23 6—69
CC—Mik. Stefanski 3 0-0 6, Miller 10 8-10 28, Me. Stefanski 3 2-3 9, Mor. Stefanski 0 2-2 2, Hesse 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 12-15 45.
M—Sullivan 1 3-4 5, Mi. Mabrey 2 0-1 5, Flaherty 11 1-2 36, Ma. Mabrey 11 2-2 25, Hagaman3 0-0 6, Pavia 1 0-0 2. Totals 29 6-11 69.
3-Pointers—Me. Stefanski CC. Flaherty (3), Mi. Mabrey, Ma. Mabrey MAN.
Records—Cedar Creek 26-5; Manasquan 31-2