VOORHEES – As the second half began, it was clear that the Cherokee High School girls basketball team was in need of someone to step up and take a leadership role.
That person turned out to be one of the team’s youngest players, freshman Alexa Therien.
She scored all of her 11 points in the second half as the Chiefs defeated a determined Haddon Township, 34-29, in a quarterfinal game of the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament played at Eastern High School.
“Thank goodness,” said Cherokee coach Ron Powell when asked to address the spark that Therien delivered to the team. “Somebody needed to. She picked it up.”
The Chiefs trailed 13-12 at the half, but that situation was short-lived.
Therien scored the first two baskets of the third quarter and the Chiefs never trailed again – even though they never exactly pulled away either.
She scored eight of her points in the third quarter, which ended with Cherokee holding a 26-22 lead.
“When we went into the locker room we weren’t too happy,” Therien said. “Coach told us that’s not how we play. Our defense was struggling and my sister (junior Ava Therien) had a couple of fouls, and she’s normally the one who leads us.
“So I said, `I’ve got to go out there and score, because we can’t lose this game.’ We expected a battle, but we weren’t playing our best.”
Kennedy Wilburn added 10 points for Cherokee, while Ava Therien was limited to eight.
That proved just enough to offset the 12 points Grace Marshall scored and the 11 points Kallee Hart scored to lead the No. 8-seeded Hawks.
However, the best they could do was keep their team in the game in the fourth quarter.
“They just play great defense and that’s what they did today,” said Haddon Township coach Tom Mulligan. “Our kids played really good defense too, but they just wore us down. I thought we did some nice things, but there were some possessions we’d like to have back.”
The Hawks pulled to within 29-25 on free throw by Hart with just over two minutes to play and then got to 32-29 in the closing seconds when Marshall made two free throws.
But Alexa Therien closed it out with two late free throws.
In the other quarterfinal game played on Sunday, No. 4 seed Camden Catholic got 20 points from Katie Deutsch and outlasted No. 5 seed Haddonfield 37-31.
The Irish will meet Cherokee Friday night at Eastern for the right to play in Sunday’s championship game.
The score was close throughout. But, in the end, the Bulldawgs had no answer Deutsch, whose layup off a steal made it 34-31 late in the game and all but sealed the win.
“She’s steady,” said Camden Catholic coach Chris Palladino of Deutsch. “She makes shots and she makes her foul shots. Today that was what we needed, she was consistent.”
Deutsch contributed the bulk of her scoring in the first quarter when she scored six points and in the fourth quarter when she scored all 10 of the team’s points.
This after she had to spend some time on the bench with foul trouble – a stretch in which Haddonfield cut a nine-point deficit down to 25-24 late in the third quarter.
“(Sitting in foul trouble) is so hard, but the most you can do is just cheer for your team – keep them positive, keep up the energy, ” Deutsch said. “I saw my team was kind of getting down and I knew somebody had to step up, so I took that leadership role.”
Even with all the problems Deutsch posed, Haddonfield did its best to try and stay in the game.
With Keegan Douglas leading the way with 14 points, they made some runs, working to keep the pressure on the Irish defense.
At one point late in the game, the Bulldawgs scored five straight points, three on free throws by Keegan, and were within 32-31.
Moments later, they had the ball with a chance to gain the lead, but a turnover led to Deutsch’s layup. She then added three late free throws to give her team a safe lead.
In the other semifinal Friday, Bishop Eustace will play Shawnee. They both won their quarterfinal games on Saturday.
Camden Catholic 12 2 11 10 -37
Haddonfield 3 8 11 7-31
CC: Kayla Johns 1, Maggie Bednarek 2, Abby Paolini 6, Katie Deutsch 20, Elaina Santana 8.
H: Sarah Feinstein 1, Annie Stanton 6, Natalie DePersia 2, Sophie Kohns 2, Mary Kelly 4, Ashley Campo 2, Keegan Douglas 14.
Cherokee 7 5 14 8 -34
Haddon Twp. 9 4 9 7-29
C: Lyndsay Craig 1, Christina McFadden 1, Kennedy Wilburn 10, Katie Cumminsky 3, Ava Therien 8, Alexa Therien 11.
HT: Karlee Hart 11, Grace Marshall 12, Lindsay Roche 2, Madison Bradley 4.