MARLTON – After it was over, and it was official that Cherokee High School’s dream season had ended in a nightmare, Katie Cummiskey took a moment for reflection.
“All of us wanted it,” said Cummiskey after the Chiefs saw their girls basketball post-season end Tuesday with a 41-34 loss to Toms River North in the South Jersey Group 4 title game. “We gave 110 percent, but it came down to the end and they just played harder than us.”
Cummiskey finished her scholastic career by scoring 12 points, nine of them coming on three 3-point goals in the third quarter.
But it wasn’t enough to save the Chiefs, who fell behind early and then trailed through the rest of the game.
One of two senior starters, the other being backcourt-mate Lyndsay Craig, Cummiskey spoke with emotion as she talked about how the Chiefs couldn’t pull things together in time.
“I’m just so proud of my team,” she said. “We just couldn’t get a win tonight.”
The Chiefs fought hard, but could not overcome a 12-point third quarter deficit. They did cut the margin to two at one point in the fourth quarter, but got no closer.
“It’s tough to figure out,” said Cherokee coach Ron Powell. “We didn’t play well, obviously, but I think Toms River had a lot to do with that.
“It seemed like they controlled the tempo of the game. They had us confused defensively at times. You could see our kids, the wheels were turning, as they changed defenses on us. You have to give them credit for that.”
The win for Toms River avenged a loss in last year’s sectional championship game when Cherokee pulled out the victory with a buzzer-beater.
Toms River coach Vicki Gillen joked about how she showed her team videos of that shot as part of the preparation for this game.
She said the Mariners came into play feeling they were going to have a pretty good shot to pull the upset.
“Going into this game, we were ready,” Gillen said. “We’ve had that `edge’ all week. I’ve been coaching a long time and I’ve seen teams that separate in March. Either you get better or you get worse. And right now we’re playing well.”
Amanda Johnson led the Mainers with 15 points, while Cherokee’s Kennedy Wilburn supported Cummiskey by matching her with 12 points.
Wilburn scored six of those points in the first quarter, which ended in an 8-8 tie, but the Chiefs could not keep pace the rest of the way.
“I think Toms River North just had more intensity than us,” Wilburn said. “We tried to match their intensity, but they just kept coming back harder and harder.”
The Mariners broke out to an 18-12 lead by halftime, and then seemed to have all put but the game out of reach.
With with the help of six points by Jenna Paul, they opened a 30-18 lead near the end of the third quarter. By that point, Cummiskey’s 3-pointers were the only thing giving the Chief’s any sign of life.
But then Cherokee pulled a complete turn around, scoring 10 straight points from the end of the third quarter and into the fourth.
Wilburn scored six of her team’s points to open the quarter and a free throw by Alexa Therien cut the deficit to 30-28 with five minutes to play.
“We showed we were fighters and that we’re going to fight to the end,” Wilburn said. “If a team is going to beat us, they’re not going to beat us easily.”
But Cherokee could never get it any closer.
The Chiefs were still within 32-30 on a basket by Craig with 3:30 left, but Toms River scored the next three points.
Cummiskey hit one of two free throws with 1:07 remaining to make it 35-31, but Paul got a layup and Johnson put in two free throws as the Mariners were able to hold on.
SJ Group 4 Championship
Toms River North 8 10 12 11-41
Cherokee 8 4 9 13-34
TRN: Brielle Bisgano 9, Jenna Paul 12, Lindsay Cobey 5, Amanda Johnson 15.
C: Alexa Therien 6, Katie Cummiskey 12, Kennedy Wilburn 12, Lindsway Craig 4.