The Cedar Creek girls basketball team, playing in its first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions in just its second year of existence, wore its usual green and maroon uniforms Tuesday against Manasquan, but as far as the Lady Warriors were concerned, the Cedar Creek players might as well have been wearing the St. Rose purple and gold.
Manasquan took control early in its first ever Tournament of Champions game and coasted to a 69-45 win over Group I champion Cedar Creek to advance to Thursday's semifinal game against St. Rose.
Thursday's meeting will be the third of the season between the two neighbors, with each team winning a game. Manasquan won the first meeting at St. Rose on Feb. 11, and St. Rose beat the Warriors in the Shore Conference Tournament final on Feb 24.
"I think we came out confident," freshman Marina Mabrey said. "We really wanted to play our best game tonight and now we're really looking forward to playing St. Rose. We'd like a little bit of revenge."
Mabrey scored 25 points Tuesday to go with six rebounds, five assists and five steals in only 21 minutes. The first-year standout scored 21 points in the first half, but left the game with a right-knee injury late in the third quarter.
Mabrey said she sprained her medial collateral twice in the same knee and it has bothered her at times this season, but also asserted that she would be ready for Thursday.
"I don't really know what's up because she doesn't really give me a straight answer," Manasquan coach Felix Romero said of Mabrey's injury. "Fortunately, she's been able to play with it and hopefully she can play on Thursday."
"It's not a big deal. I'll ice it the next few days, and I'll be ready for Thursday," Mabrey said.
Sophomore Katelynn Flaherty scored a team-high 26 points, including 17 in the second half, while also adding four assists.
Mabrey and Flaherty combined for 51 of their team's 69 points and picked up the scoring while senior Michaela Mabrey deferred to her two younger teammates. The University of Notre Dame signee scored only five points on six shots, but handed out six assists while getting her younger sister and backcourt-mate involved.
"(Michaela) loves to pass the ball," Flaherty said. "She loves to pass so much, sometimes we have to tell her to shoot the ball. But she has such a feel for the game, she knows where we're going before we know sometimes."
Cedar Creek junior forward Kristine Miller posted a game-high 28 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cougars in the first of what could be multiple T of C appearances, considering there were no seniors on this year's Cedar Creek roster.
Other than Mabrey's knee injury, Miller's big game in the post was the only blemish for Manasquan Tuesday night. In the loss to St. Rose in late February — just the second for the Warriors this season — Purple Roses center Samantha Clark went off for 28 points to bury Manasquan.
"It just seems like whenever we face a good forward, the score 20 on us," Flaherty said. "We still haven't totally figured out how to stop teams from scoring down low, and it just comes down to boxing out and rebounding. We need to do a better job of it."
While Cedar Creek's guards were no match for Manasquan on the perimeter, Manasquan looked at Tuesday as a challenge to stop Miller while preparing for Clark and St. Rose.
"We like the challenge," Romero said. "We've been playing some pretty tough post players in the last three rounds, whether, it's Seneca or Teaneck or certainly (Miller) tonight."
The winner of the Manasquan-St. Rose rubber match will play the winner of the other semifinal, which features Gill St. Bernard playing No. 1 seed Malcolm X Shabazz, in Monday's championship at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford.
"We're going to practice guarding (Clark) tomorrow because last time we played, that's really what killed us," Marina Mabrey said. "That, and we had about a billion turnovers. I think the key to (Thursday) is just rebounding, getting the ball out and then shutting down their guards, which I think we can do."