Cherokee, Lenape give South Jersey Invitational Final Four an Olympic American flavor
VOORHEES — Preparing to face an Olympic Conference American Division girls basketball team is mostly futile. No amount of film study can replicate the experience of tipping off a game against teams from South Jersey’s most challenging division.
Saturday in the first two quarterfinal games of the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament, Cherokee and Lenape flashes completely different and completely dominant features of the division’s character.
Cherokee locked up and grinded down Haddon Heights for a 35-20 win. Lenape turned up the pressure and turned away Clearview 78-53, with a 50-point second-half.
“Honestly, for us, locking things down is our main thing,” Cherokee junior Gabby Recinto said. “Defense is everything, no matter what. We practice defense every day. Offense doesn't win games unless you play good defense. That's our main principle here.”
Cherokee held the Garnets to four single-digit quarters. Heights has won 18 games this season but they had never seen anything like Cherokee.
“It's really nice, getting to play different teams,” Recinto said. “That's why this tournament is great. You play teams you don't usually get to play. When it's a team that we're not used to playing, You see a different defense, a different offense. They play us differently. They scout us differently. It's just a great opportunity overall.”
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Katie Fricker led Cherokee with a dozen points. That was more than enough when their opponent was held ten points under its previous season-low point total.
Lenape saw the Pioneers keep pace through one half of play before exploding out of the halftime break on a 15-1 run to take total control of the game.
“I think after halftime everyone just got the energy up and knew what we had to do,” Lenape junior Kristen Cortese said. “Everyone was on the same page. Just playing Lenape basketball and having fun out there. Cortese scored 15 points. Kaitlyn King added another 17. Together they totaled just one more point than freshman Alexa Henry, who matched her uniform number with 30 points. She had just six at halftime.
“She is great,” Cortese said. “I love Lex. She always brings the energy. She gets everyone involved with every play. She gets us going.”
Next week, Lenape will play the winner of Sunday’s quarterfinal between Shawnee and Kingsway. The other Elite Eight game pits Cinnaminson and Eastern for the right to face Cherokee. Both teams could meet other Olympic American rivals. Or an unfamiliar foe.
“It doesn’t matter tous who we play,” Cortese said. “This tournament is really important especially because we are the first Lenape team going to the Final Four. That makes it really big to us.”
Top-seeded Cherokee will attempt to win the tournament title for a fourth time. Still, it’s a new experience for most of the players.
“We haven't played in the tournament for a few years,” Recinto said. “I've never played in this tournament, so to be back is really nice. We are back after winning three times in a row and then we took a break a little bit, but it's a good opportunity for us.”
Tom Rimback, sports reporter
Tom Rimback grew up reading the Burlington County Times and Courier Post sports sections and began writing for the BCT in 1996. He has covered everything from Super Bowls and Final Fours to Tri-County Swimming but he’s happiest on a sideline interviewing South Jersey scholastic athletes for the Burlington County Times, the Courier Post and The Daily Journal. Follow him on twitter @RimbackBCT. Email him with story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org and, most importantly, support local journalism with a subscription.
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This article originally appeared on Burlington County Times: Lenape, Cherokee win South Jersey Invitational quarters differently