EGG HARBOR CITY — Cedar Creek High School girls basketball coach Francine Raph heard good things about her current players while they were still in middle school.
Her squad was talented enough to start as a varsity program last season with just freshmen and sophomores. But Raph never anticipated how far the Pirates would come in one year.
In just their second varsity season, the Pirates will compete for a sectional championship.
Cedar Creek defeated Glassboro 77-37 in a packed gymnasium in a South Jersey Group I semifinal Friday. The top-seeded Pirates will host No. 3 Gloucester City (24-3) for the sectional title Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“You hope to have the talent and ability to do that, but you don’t expect it,” Raph said.
Cedar Creek (23-4) has cruised through the tournament. In the first three rounds, the Pirates beat their opponents by a combined 118 points.
In its inaugural season, Cedar Creek made a second-round exit in the state tournament. Then, however, the Pirates were simply thrilled to be playing postseason basketball.
Things are different this time around. Cedar Creek expects to win.
“We’re going to a championship, and we’re so excited,” sophomore Morgan Stefanski (nine points) said.
Glassboro (21-8), the No. 5 seed, could do nothing to stop Cedar Creek’s Kristine Miller. The 6-foot junior scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots.
Cedar Creek jumped to a 13-0 lead and Miller scored 10 of those points. The Pirates lobbed high passes to a waiting Miller at the post time after time. When Glassboro’s Shannon Reardigan (13 points, 10 rebounds) blocked her path, Miller simply spun to either side and hit a jumper.
The crowd roared with each basket. The Pirates’ have an enthusiastic fan base. Glassboro sent two busloads of students to pack the visitors’ side of the bleachers.
The atmosphere was electric. The student sections yelled back and forth.
“(The crowd) surprises me every game,” Miller said. “I love seeing it, but it surprises me.”
Cedar Creek is thrilled to get to host the sectional final. The Pirates’ fans are a huge part of that.
“It makes us more excited to play. Our basketball games are a huge part of this school,” Miller said.
Raph praised how much the team has grown in one year. Cedar Creek still has no seniors. The team’s only juniors are Miller and Michelina Hesse, who made five steals.
Cedar Creek is much deeper than just Miller.
Mercina Stefanski added 18 points and Mikila Stefanski 16. Along with Morgan, the Stefanski sisters are accurate perimeter shooters who can also drive to the hoop.
Gloucester City, next Tuesday’s opponent, has won 13 games in a row, including 47-44 in overtime over Haddon Township in Friday’s other semifinal.
However, the Pirates are favored to win the South Jersey Group I title — in what will be only the program’s 54th game.
“It’s amazing what we’ve done in a year. They have so much confidence in each other now,” Raph said.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Glassboro 3 12 12 10—37
Cedar Creek 23 20 15 19—77
G—Schmidt 3 0-0 7, Reardigan 4 5-7 13, Donnelly 1 2-2 5, Brown 3 0-0 6, Shivers 2 0-0 4, Mancini 1 0-1 2. Totals—14 7-10 37.
CC—Mi. Stefanski6 2-2 16, Mer. Stefanski 7 2-3 18, Hesse 0 2-2 2, Mor. Stefanski 3 2-3 9, Miller 9 5-7 23, Jaffe 1 0-0 2, Thomas 1 0-0 2, Fletcher 0 1-4 1, Lutgen 1 0-0 2, Mon. Stefanski 0 2-2 2. Totals—28 16-23 77.
3-pointers—Schmidt, Donnelly G; Mi. Stefanski (2), Mer. Stefanski (2), Mor. Stefanski CC.
Records—Glassboro 21-8; Cedar Creek 24-3.