By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — On Saturday afternoon, the Cedar Creek girls basketball team was in the midst of four games in five days, and was trailing Wildwood by 10 points in the third quarter at the inaugural Kiss Cancer Goodbye Tournament at Atlantic County Institute of Technology. Pirates first-year coach Jess Sartorio said to her players that it was gut-check time. If they wanted to be the type of team that could make the state playoffs and challenge for a berth in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, they needed to dig deep and find a way to come back and beat the Warriors.
It took an extra period for them to do that, but the Pirates rallied for a 46-41 overtime win — one that put them over the .500 mark, at 4-3, but more importantly gave Cedar Creek some confidence and momentum. The win was the third straight for Cedar Creek following a nightmare 50-15 loss to Mainland Regional, and came less than 24 hours after a hard-fought win over Atlantic City on the road.
“We saw how good we can be by playing together (in the win over Atlantic City), and with that we carried it on to this game. This was a little rougher than we thought, though,” said senior forward Sarah Tomasello, who was matched up with Wildwood star Maddie McCracken for most of the game.
McCracken was nearly unguardable, finishing with a game-high 33 points. Late in the game, as Tomasello was trying to play through a tweaked ankle, Sartorio enlisted the help of Jess Amos off the bench in an effort to contain McCracken.
“I told the girls this is a game when adversity came into play and we stepped up. Things weren’t going our way, Jazzy’s shots weren’t falling early, and the ball just wasn’t bouncing in our way. We were down 10 and we had to change things up defensively. Jess Amos stepped up big time by coming in and defending McCracken and took a lot of pressure off of Sarah, who was kind of worn out from last night,” Sartorio said. “McCracken is a great player. She’s going to score. But Sarah’s energy was awesome, especially after last night, my girls were beat coming into today. We’ve had one practice and three games in the last three days — they are tired, but they have no choice, if they wanted to win they needed to step up, be gritty, be tough and not let certain things that weren’t going their way bother them.
“When we were down 10, I was thinking this will determine what we are made of, and how will we respond? And they did a great job,” Sartorio added.
At one point, Wildwood led, 23-13, but Cedar Creek came storming back with a 10-2 run, and eventually took a 33-32 lead on a big jumper from Amos and a 3-pointer by Jazzy Duverglas. The game see-sawed from that point, and with 26 seconds left, McCracken nailed a pair of free throws to tie the game at 35 and send it into overtime.
In the extra period, Trina Deveney gave the Pirates a 41-38 lead with a basket down low, but Wildwood responded when McCracken nailed a three to tie it once again. Tomasello gave Cedar Creek the lead for good, 43-41, with a pair of free throws with 43 seconds left, and Duverglas added two more to make it 45-41 with 14 seconds remaining. Duverglas and Deveney each finished with 16 points to lead the Pirates, and Jezlyn Cross and Tomasello combined for 11 points.
“McCracken is a very good player. It was tough going down, but that’s basketball. You just have to get up, and that shows what kind of player you are,” Tomasello said of getting banged up a little during the game. “We didn’t really mesh together at first, but we’ve found ourselves and are making the connections. I don’t think we’ve lacked for confidence, it was more of rushing things and not being patient. (This game) shows how well we can play together, and when it comes down to hard times — like that extra quarter — we can show our hearts.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays