The Cedar Creek High School girls basketball team needed just two varsity seasons to reach its first sectional final.
The top-seeded Pirates (23-4) will host third-seeded Gloucester City (24-3) at 6 p.m. today in the South Jersey Group I championship game.
"We're all psyched," coach Francine Raph said in a phone interview Monday night. "We're all really excited - the school, the kids, the community, the players. There's been such a positive response and we're excited to play."
Last year, in its first varsity season, the team of freshmen and sophomores made it to the second round of the South Jersey tournament.
This year, still without any seniors, the Pirates have beaten their opponents by a combined 118 points in the first three rounds of the tournament.
"They are all so focused on just winning," Raph said. "They don't ever give up, and that shows their desire to win and their desire for the game."
Cedar Creek defeated fifth-seeded Glassboro 77-37 in the semifinal Friday. Junior Kristine Miller scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and blocked two shots.
"She's a big factor for us," Raph said. "I think she's one of the best forwards in Group I, and if she keeps having great games and as a team we keep staying on track, playing as a team and do what we've been doing, we should be fine."
Even though the squad is still young and somewhat inexperienced at the varsity level, Raph said the Pirates are significantly better than they were last season
"It's like night and day," Raph said. "Last year was a huge learning-the-ropes process and learning what to expect. We worked on things we needed to improve on, and it really paid off. They all spent so much time on understanding the game. They have a great understanding of their roles as a team. They play as a team and they are all unselfish."
The Pirates' opponent today, Gloucester, beat second-seeded Haddon Township 47-44 in overtime Friday for its 13th consecutive win.
"We know it's going to be tough," Raph said. "We don't take anyone lightly. They wouldn't be there if they weren't good. We just have to stick to what we know and play how we play."
If the Pirates win, they would move on to the state semifinals against the winner of the Central Jersey Group I final between Metuchen and New Egypt.
But Cedar Creek is focused on Gloucester.
"It's going to be a battle, and we're ready for it and looking forward to the opportunity," Raph said. "I told them, 'You never know if we're going to get here again, so take advantage of the opportunity and just do the best you can.' "
Contact Nyssa Dougherty:
South Jersey Group I girls basketball final
No. 3 Gloucester City (24-3) at No. 1 Cedar Creek (23-4), 6 p.m. today
At stake: Winner advances to Thursday's state semifinal against the winner of this afternoon's Central Jersey title game between New Egypt and Metuchen.
How Gloucester got there: Beat Woodbury 44-23; Maple Shade 47-28; Haddon Township 47-44.
How Cedar Creek got there: Beat Wildwood 79-30; Paulsboro 71-42; Glassboro 77-37.