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Cedar Creek faces Manasquan tonight in state semifinal

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CCreekMorgan Jen Mara/Morgan Stefanski looks for an opening against the defense of Middle's Holly McKaig (31) and Lauren Legler. The Cedar Creek High School girls basketball team, fresh off its 56-50 victory over Middle Township for the South Jersey Group II championship, will face Central Jersey champion Manasquan in a state semifinal tonight (7 p.m.) at Williamstown High School.

Tickets will be available at the door, $3 for adults and $2 for senior citizens, and the game will be broadcast on 97.3 FM.

The winner of tonight's semifinal faces the winner of the other state semifinal between Newton and Weequahic in the Group II final Sunday at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.

Cedar Creek (24-4) is going for its second state title in three years. Two years ago, in only their second year of varsity play, the Pirates won the Group I title, led by center Kristine Miller. Current senior starters (and sisters) Mikila, Mercina and Morgan Stefanski, along with guard Jahniece Jaffe, were sophomores on that Cedar Creek team.

The Pirates are also getting solid inside play this postseason from junior Casey Thomas and sophomore Fatimah Blackwell, who have averaged 13.3 and nine points, respectively, in the playoffs.

The Pirates faced Manasquan in a 2012 Tournament of Champions quarterfinal, losing 69-45 to a Manasquan team then led by all-American Michaela Mabry. This year, Manasquan (24-5) is again one of the top teams in the state, led by Michaela's younger sister, Marina Mabrey, who scored 30 points in the Big Blue Warriors' 68-49 win over Holmdel for the Central Jersey championship.

Check back with www.shorenewstoday.com and Friday's Hamilton/Egg Harbor City print edition of The Current for continuing coverage of the Cedar Creek Pirates' state championship run.

Here's some additional coverage by staff writer Brian Cunniff of Cedar Creek's win over Middle in Monday's South Jersey championship game:

EGG HARBOR CITY - In the late moments of her team’s South Jersey Group II title game against Middle Township, Cedar Creek’s Mikila Stefanski looked over at her coach and made a rather bold statement.

“We were very confident,” Stefanski said. “I looked at Coach (Francine) Raph and said, ‘We got this, we’re gonna win.’ I just knew we were going to pull it out.”

Thanks to Stefanski’s fourth-quarter heroics, the Lady Pirates did just that.

Stefanski scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the final quarter, five of which came on six critical free-throw attempts in the final minute of play as Cedar Creek captured its second sectional title in three seasons with the 56-50 victory Monday evening in front of a boisterous sellout crowd.

Stefanski and Jahniece Jaffe combined to make seven consecutive foul shots in the final minute. Jeffe’s were especially critical, the senior guard twice knocking down both attempts to increase her team’s lead from two to four points each time.

“Basically, we knew we had to make keep our heads, make our shots from the foul line and make great plays when we had the ball and don’t force anything,” Jaffe said.

Meanwhile, Middle Township, which once held a seven-point lead late in the third quarter, made only one of its first eight free throws in the second half. Middle finished just 5 for 13 from the line for the game.

Jaffe netted nine of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.

The Lady Pirates scored 25 fourth-quarter points against a Middle team that had conceded 30 total points or less in all three of its previous state playoff games.

“This is crazy,” Jaffe said. “We only lost once ever here at home in my four years. I wasn’t going to end my career on this floor with a loss. We came together and got the win.”

In addition to its foul-line success, Cedar Creek also connected on seven three-point shots. Stefanski hit three and her sister, Mercina, and Jaffe each made two.

Casey Thomas added 11 points for Cedar Creek (24-4). But the junior post player was equally effective in passing out of double teams to open shooters on the perimeter.

“They were double- and triple-teaming our post players but we were able to penetrate and get the ball in there and they kicked it out to us outside,” Mikila Stefanski said.

After the teams were locked at 22-22 at the half, Middle opened the second half on a 13-6 run to open a 35-28 lead. Cedar Creek responded with a 25-12 surge that spanned the last 1 ½ minutes of the third quarter and the first 7 ½ minutes of the fourth.

Casey Thomas Jen Mara/Casey Thomas takes a shot against Middle. Mikila Stefanski Jen Mara/Cedar Creek’s Mikila Stefanski goes up for a shot as Middle’s Holly McKaig tries to defend. Cedar Creek's Jahniece Jaffe Jen Mara/Cedar Creek's Jahniece Jaffe drives to the basket against Middle's Erin Ruskey. Cedar Creek  Jen Mara/Cedar Creek players, fans and mascot celebrate their South Jersey Group II championship.


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