Two days ago, the Cedar Creek High School girls basketball team was celebrating the first state championship in school history.
At 8 tonight, the Pirates will be back at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, where on Sunday they won the state Group I title with a 50-38 victory over Whippany Park, to represent their enrollment group as the sixth seed in the season-ending Tournament of Champions against third-seeded Manasquan.
"There hasn't been a lot of preparation," Cedar Creek coach Francine Raph said Monday night about the short turnaround between games. "We're trying to get some information on their squad, but we want to mainly keep doing what we've been doing well."
Junior forward Kristine Miller has been a consistent scorer for the Pirates, averaging 22.5 points and 8.8 rebounds during the playoffs. She said the Pirates' postseason success has all happened so quickly for the second-year program.
"We're trying to savor every moment, but it's hard when we have a game just two days after the state championship," Miller said. "It all hasn't set in yet. We're taking every minute and hour as it goes."
The team has created buzz in the school, which opened its doors in September 2010. More than 100 students attended the Group I championship game Sunday. Miller said that students and faculty alike gave the Pirates a warm welcome home in the hallways of the Egg Harbor City school Monday.
"Everyone was clapping every time they saw us and saying congratulations," Miller said. "It means so much to us. This just brings our school together even more. It makes everyone happy to be in school every day. We're like a big family."
With so little time to prepare for their TOC opponent, Raph said her team will be playing on excitement. They will have a quick shoot-around after school today before leaving for Pine Belt Arena at 6 p.m.
"It's their goal to go out (today) and do what we do and see if it's good enough to win," Raph said.
Manasquan (29-2) was the state Group III champion. Senior guard Michaela Mabrey is averaging 17.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. She is committed to play at Notre Dame. Manasquan's leading scorer is sophomore Katelynn Flaherty (20.4 ppg).
Miller said part of the fun of the Tournament of Champions will be learning about their opponent as the game unfolds.
"This is a new team we don't know anything about," Miller said of Manasquan. "From the beginning of the game we'll be learning who's who and who we should play our strong defense against. We're going to try to learn as the game goes along and hopefully we get it at the beginning of the game."
The Pirates (26-4) have played great team defense during the postseason. They also are shooting 86-for-114 (75 percent) from the foul line, led by Mikila Stefanski who is 17-for-20 (85 percent). Mercina and Morgan Stefanski have combined for 17 3-pointers during the playoffs.
Raph said that she expects her players to continue to play to their strengths tonight. The winner will advance to play second-seeded St. Rose at 6 p.m. Thursday.
"At this point in the season and this point in the tournament, you have to do your own thing," Raph said. "You do what you do well and hope that it's enough."
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