MEDFORD – Shannon Mulroy felt like she was having flashbacks.
Moments after her Lenape High School girls basketball team won the South Jersey Group 4 girls basketball championship on Tuesday night, Mulroy recalled the last time the squad won such a title.
“I remember when I was a freshman it was a great feeling, and I was making fun of the seniors for crying,” Mulroy said. “Now I’m the one who is crying.”
The Indians turned in the quintessential team effort and advanced to the Thursday’s Group 4 state semifinal with a 41-30 win over Olympic Conference Olympic American rival Cherokee.
The last time the Indians won at the South Jersey level, they went on to the Group 4 state championship.
Mulroy and Nevaeh Sutton were both freshman and role players on that team, but each played key roles in Tuesday’s win.
Mulroy, the team’s season-long leader, scored only six points, but she still managed the influence almost all of the action by playing great defense and a fine floor game with six assists.
Sutton scored 10 points, and six came in the decisive fourth quarter, including a crucial 3-pointer that gave the Indians a 29-24 lead.
The Indians made four 3-pointers for the game, but two came in the fourth quarter when they pulled away for the win.
The other one was made by Regan King and was part of her eight-point effort for the night. Kiana Gosnell also hit for double figures for 10 points.
“They’ve been big shooters for us all year,” Mulroy said. “Nevaeh knocked down a couple of big ones in the fourth quarter so it was great having them on the court tonight.”
However, coach Rob Hummel singled out Mulroy as the one who makes the team go.
“She oozes confidence and I think she spread that around a little bit for this playoff run,” he said. “She has huge influence on the team. There are times when you get caught watching her and why wouldn’t you?”
Hummel thinks the team began to pull things together this season when they stopped watching and starting blending in with what Mulroy was offering on the court.
“If you move a little bit she’s going to find you,” he said. “She’d rather you make an open one than having to fight for the hardest one out there.”
Sutton confirmed that the team falls in line behind Mulroy.
“We need her to penetrate the ball,” she said. “She can dribble in and then pass the ball right back out. I feel like tonight she had a lot of assists, which was important because she was heavily guarded. Tonight we just used her to get us open shots.”
Along with their crisp execution on offense, the Indians were almost flawless defensively, especially against two of South Jersey’s best players.
They limited sisters Alexa and Ava Therien to a combined 17 points, and they shut out Alexa in the fourth quarter.
“It was just help defense all the time,” Mulroy said. “They’re great players, so we knew we had to collapse on them.”
Kennedy Wilbourn joined Alexa Therien to lead Cherokee with nine points each.
The Chiefs hurt themselves by shooting 10-for-18 at the foul line, and 3-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
“We picked a bad night to shoot like that,” said Cherokee coach Ron Powell. “When you shoot like that it’s going to be tough.”
The game was close until Lenape pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Lenape led 20-16 at the half, but fell behind when Cherokee scored seven straight points early in the third quarter to go ahead 23-22.
However, Lenape scored the final three points of the quarter to go up 26-23 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Indians saw their lead dwindle to 29-28 early in the fourth quarter, but Cherokee scored only two points the rest of the way.
A 3-point goal by King, a drive by Sutton and a slew of three throws helped Lenape put the finishing touches on the win.
S.J. Group 4 championship
Lenape 41, Cherokee 30
Cherokee 9 7 7 7- 30
Lenape 11 9 6 15-41
Cher: Katie Fricker 2, Alexa Therien 8, Kennedy Wilbourn 9, Alexa Therien 9, C.P. Apistar 2.
Len: Shannon Mulroy 6, Nevaeh Smith 10, Regan King 8, Kiana Gosnell 10, Dyonia Hess 4, Johnstone 3