EGG HARBOR CITY - It looked like a scene from a sports movie.

As the buzzer sounded, the Cedar Creek High School basketball team's bench emptied. A mob of fans ran onto the court and surrounded its players. The crowd hoisted a few players into the air.

The classic Queen song "We Are the Champions" blared through the gymnasium as Cedar Creek - in just its second varsity season - celebrated its first championship.

Top-seeded Cedar Creek decisively beat No. 3 Gloucester City 66-29 in the South Jersey Group I final Tuesday. The Pirates (24-4) advanced to the state Group I semifinal against Central Jersey champion Metuchen at Williamstown High School on Thursday at 6 p.m.

Junior Kristine Miller led the Pirates with 18 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. She has been a force through Cedar Creek's playoff run.

The Pirates were favored to win the sectional title despite the team's youth. Most of its players are sophomores.

"It feels so good because we're a two-year team. This doesn't happen. It's history in the making," said sophomore Mercina Stefanski, who scored a game-high 19 points and had three steals.

Like Cedar Creek's previous playoff opponents, Gloucester (24-4) fell behind early and never caught up. The game opened to a 4-4 tie, until the Pirates went on a 16-0 run that extended into the second quarter.

Madison McClintock led the Lions with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Cedar Creek has had tremendous crowd turnouts this season. The Pirates' gym was filled to capacity for the school's first sectional championship in any sport. Some spectators were turned away at the door.

Cedar Creek held a surprise pep rally for the girls basketball team Monday. The students planned cheers to shout during the game.

The Pirates were touched by the continued efforts of their supporters.

"It's awesome," said Miller, a 6-foot forward and center. "I love our school so much."

Cedar Creek was picked by many to reach the sectional final in December. The Pirates are extremely talented.

Expectations were high.

"I woke up and the first thing I thought about was the game, and then I had anxiety all day," Stefanski said. "It's gone now."

Much of the pressure to turn fresh faces into champions fell on the shoulders of Cedar Creek coach Francine Raph and her staff.

The Pirates have potent shooters. Raph said the coaching staff focused on defense in the postseason. It paid off. Cedar Creek has limited four teams to a combined 138 points.

"Relief is the word," Raph said during the postgame celebration. "I just knew if we came out and played our game the way we know how, we'd be fine. … The girls played great."

Cedar Creek hasn't disappointed. The Pirates cruised through the South Jersey playoffs, outscoring opponents by 155 points on the way. No Group I team has been able to match Cedar Creek's talent.

As the celebration quieted, the Pirates immediately began to look forward to Thursday.

"I just want to keep playing," Mikila Stefanski, who added 14 points and four assists, said.

Raph credited games with perennial Cape-Atlantic League powers Middle Township and Sacred Heart for preparing the Pirates for the postseason. Middle Township won the South Jersey Group II title Monday. Sacred Heart is the CAL champion.

A huge goal was checked off of their list, but the Pirates are eager to move forward. A state championship is within reach.

"Bring it on," Miller said. "I'm ready."

Contact Brittany Grugan:


Gloucester City 4 6 8 11-29

Cedar Creek 15 12 18 21-66

GC-McClintock 7 2-2 16, James 1 0-1 3, Velez 0 4-4 4, Cooper 1 0-1 2, Cooney 1 0-2 2, Blackiston 1 0-0 2. Totals-11 6-10 29.

CC-Mi. Stefanski 3 6-6 12, Hesse 2 0-0 4, Mer. Stefanski 5 4-5 17, Mor. Stefanski 4 2-4 11, Miller 6 6-6 18, THomas 2 0-1 4. Totals-22 18-22 66.

3-pointers-James GC; Mer. Stefanski (3), Mor. Stefanski CC.

Records-Gloucester 24-4; Cedar Creek 24-4.