BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP— Summer Crilley rarely misses a foul shot.
The Holy Spirit High School junior has impeccable accuracy from the line, which made it surprising when she missed her first four attempts Wednesday.
Crilley made her first successful free-throw attempt with 39.5 seconds left in the game.
The two points would be the most important of the game. Her baskets extended the Spartans’ lead over Cedar Creek to two possessions with seconds to spare.
Holy Spirit rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat Cedar Creek 63-56 in a Cape-Atlantic League girls basketball semifinal at St. Augustine Prep. The Spartans (19-5), the third seed and No. 11 in The Press Elite 11, advance to the championship game at noon Saturday against Sacred Heart at Richard Stockton College.
Crilley, a 5-foot-7 guard, finished a stellar game with 22 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. She hit another pair of free throws with 12.4 seconds left to close out the game.
“I guess I do better under pressure,” Crilley said. “I had to step up at the end and help my team win.”
Holy Spirit outscored Cedar Creek
(19-4), No. 5 in the Elite 11 and the No. 2 seed, 23-8 in the final six minutes.
Senior forward Gina Lewis scored eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. Lewis and senior forward Annie Wenz had 10 rebounds apiece. Senior guard Valerie Garofalo added 15 points, four assists and three steals.
Coach Dennis Smith called a timeout as his team went down by double digits. Before he even could speak to his team, he knew the game was under control.
“They had that look in their eye that said, ‘We will not go down without a fight,’ ” Smith said.
The Pirates seized temporary control of the game with a 22-11 third-quarter run.
A switch in Holy Spirit’s defensive setup swung the momentum in its favor. With Lewis and Wenz both guarding Cedar Creek senior Kristine Miller (21 points, 11 rebounds), the Pirates often had a one-man advantage in the backcourt.
Morgan Stefanski scored 10 of her 15 points in the third quarter.
Mikila Stefanski, who totaled 17 points and six assists, had 10 points in the first half.
“Our whole team is fast,” Mikila Stefanski said.
“We’re a fast-breaking team and we’re always trying to push the ball.”
Smith sat Wenz, who was in foul trouble, in favor of playing a fourth guard to contend with Cedar Creek’s speed. The adjustment paid off.
Holy Spirit forced four turnovers late in the game, including a steal by Crilley that led to the foul that put her on the line in the final minute.
With each steal, rebound or basket, the Spartans’ crowded fan bleachers roared.
“We traveled a decent student section, which is great. We’ve got to make these games feel like home games,” Smith said.
It will be the first appearance in the CAL title game for Smith and his players. Holy Spirit’s last appearance in the title game was in 2010, before Smith started coaching and while the current seniors were freshmen.
Holy Spirit’s last league title came in 2006. Sacred Heart, which won last year’s CAL title, upset top-seeded Ocean City in the other semifinal.
The Spartans will look to dethrone the defending champions on Saturday.
“We’re pumped,” Crilley said. “We know this was a big game, but it’s not over yet.”
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Holy Spirit 12 13 11 27—63
Cedar Creek 12 10 22 12—56
HS—Garofalo 5 4-7 15, Wilson 2 0-0 4, Crilley 9 4-8 22, Wenz 2 0-0 4, Lewis 7 0-0 14, Long 1 0-0 2, Hartley 0 2-2 2. Totals 26 10-18 63.
CC—Mi. Stefanski 6 2-2 17, Hesse 0 0-0 0, Me. Stefanski 1 0-0 3, Mor. Stefanski 3 6-6 15, Miller 8 5-8 21. Totals 18 13-16 56.
3-pointers—Garofalo HS; Mi. Stefanski (3), Me. Stefanski, Mor. Stefanski (3).
Records—Spirit 19-5; Cedar Creek 19-4.