CAL playoff window closing for Cedar Creek after loss to St. Joe

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EGG HARBOR CITY ­- The bubble may have burst Monday night for the Cedar Creek High School boys basketball team.

Needing a win to stay within striking distance of a spot in the upcoming Cape Atlantic League playoffs, the Pirates fell to St. Joseph, 70-69, in the most dispiriting fashion: on a free throw with no time left on the clock.

St. Joe’s Ben Mitchell was fouled on a last-second shot that tied the CAL United Conference game. Mitchell calmly converted the 3-point play for the victory. The Wildcats’ bench erupted in celebration, while the Pirates walked off the court in stunned silence.

“It’s a tough way to lose a game,” said Cedar Creek coach Phil Schaffer. “Our guys battled hard for 32 minutes, and we thought we were in a position to win the game. That’s the way it goes sometimes, and we’ll learn from this and put ourselves in position not to foul next time.”

It hurt even more that the Pirates squandered a five-point lead with 5:21 left to play. They led by four on a Damon Mitchell field goal with 1:41 left.

But St. Joe’s Charlie Riccardi hit a 3-point shot to keep the Wildcats close, and St. Joe capitalized on a pair of Cedar Creek turnovers, including a traveling call on Mitchell that nullified a fast-break basket.

After Caleb Graves hit two foul shots to give Cedar Creek its final lead with 13 seconds to play, Ben Mitchell grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled by Jake Knight as he put up the game-tying shot.

“We played good enough to win,” Graves said, “but a couple turnovers here and there, a couple travels… We missed rebounds and had a couple missed box-outs that cost us, especially the one at the end.”

Riccardi led all scorers with 33 points to pace St. Joseph’s (9-10, 7-5). Graves scored 18 points to lead Cedar Creek. Mitchell, a prized football recruit, had 16 points for the Pirates.

Cedar Creek fell to 11-8 overall, 8-4 in the conference. They are contending for one of five remaining CAL playoff berths, but will need plenty of help now to make the eight-team tournament, which begins Feb. 15.

“We needed that one,” said Graves, a senior who lives in Egg Harbor City. “We played hard. We’ve got to keep our heads up and win out the rest of our games.”

The Pirates have three regular season games left, beginning with Thursday’s tough home test again first-place Wildwood Catholic (5:30 p.m.)

The Pirates are expected to receive a berth in the NJSIAA Group 2 Tournament, which begins Feb. 25. They were on the bubble for a CAL playoff berth, but the bubble may be thin to the point of breaking.

“This (loss) definitely hurt us,” Schaffer said, “but we’re not going to stop. We have Wildwood Catholic on Thursday, and we’re going to give them everything we’ve got.”

NOTE: Cedar Creek’s Damon Mitchell, a first-team all-South Jersey quarterback who led the Pirates to the South Jersey Group 2 title game last fall, said he is strongly considering Arkansas or Rutgers as his college choice, but might not make his final decision until signing day on Wednesday. He had verbally committed to Georgia Tech in July.



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