First time for Alaba is same old time for No. 12 Cherokee in SJ Group 4 final win

First time for Alaba is same old time for No. 12 Cherokee in SJ Group 4 final win

Updated: 1 month, 2 days, 19 hours, 48 minutes, 51 seconds ago

There is no way to predict how a freshman will react. Even a very good one.

Fortunately, Cherokee guard Bri Alaba was well prepared. The freshman scored nine points as Cherokee — No. 12 in the Top 20 — topped fifth-seeded Atlantic City 47-37 to win its third straight South Jersey Group 4 title.

With 38.8 left in the third quarter, Atlantic City center Quanirah Cherry-Montague scored the 1,000th point of her career on the way to a team-high 14 points. The Mississippi State-bound senior finished her career with 1,006 points.

Cherokee will meet Central Jersey champion Jackson Memorial in Wednesday’s NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal.

With nine in her first South Jersey final, Alaba has 200 career points.

“It’s exciting going out in my first year,” Alaba said. “It was new to me but I wasn’t nervous. I knew I had my team behind me. I know everyone had my back. We were so prepared for this game. We went over so much stuff, so I really knew everyone had my back.”

Seniors Gabby Recinto and Delaney Jackson led the way with 15 and 10 points, respectively. Fellow starter Courtney Furman made it a trio of seniors to help Alaba comfortable.

“They all told me that they were in my position at one point,” Alaba said. “They were ready the first time they were out there. They told me not to be nervous because as soon as you get out there, it will all flows and you will feel part of the team.”

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For second-seeded Cherokee, it was the seventh South Jersey final since 2016, missing only 2021, when Cherokee won a regional title in a shortened COVID-19 year.

Cherokee (27-2 record) scored the first five points of the game and never trailed, extending their lead methodically throughout. The difference was not offensive so much as the smothering defense built around limiting Cherry-Montague.

“We wanted to just rebound, play hard, box out.” Recinto said. “Basically, try not let her get the ball as best we can.”

For the most part, that plan worked to a tee. Cherry-Montague had just two points at the half. Meanwhile, the threat of the Atlantic City big had Cherokee shooting just 25 percent. Despite that, Cherokee was able to keep AC in chase mode, throughout.

“We just knew we had to take care of the ball and play physical,” Jackson said. “They were obviously really confident. They’ve been on a roll. We knew we needed to play our game.”

Atlantic City senior Sasha Lemons made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, while Cherry-Montague began taking over in the paint scoring six quick points.

“She’s an awesome player,” Recinto said. “All credit to her and that team. We just had to play physical. We knew she was going to get some buckets. We knew we had to keep playing.”

Cherokee was done getting buckets in the third quarter. It won by getting to and making their chances at the free throw line. Cherokee shot 16-for-18 from the line to score all their fourth-quarter points.

“I truly believe we have the best coaches,” Recinto said. “They’re amazing. We’re always working on something new. We always want to improve so they’re amazing.”

Atlantic City (22-6) closed out an outstanding season that saw win 22 game and topple No. 4 Williamstown and No. 1 Shawnee on the road for the right to play in a South Jersey final.

“Coming into the season, we lost two point guards to graduation,” Atlantic City coach Jason Lantz said. “That was going to be our biggest challenge. There is so much pressure for a high school kid to run a team. Everybody’s coming at you and pressuring you. I thought that Sasha Lemons and Bridget Roach grew up a lot this year doing that.”

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Then there’s Cherry-Montague. The senior averaged 17.3 points per game and nearly 13 rebounds a contest. The biggest hand of the game came late in the third quarter when her balloons came out.

“Nir Nir is a special young lady,” Lantz said. “She’s very shy. She loves her family. She loves her teammates. She’s kind of like the silent leader.

“As these playoffs went along, we got to see her exert her will. A lot of these games, where it was tight, she just took over It’s good to see her grow into you know her next phase. It’s going to be challenge on the next level, but I’m excited to see her keep growing.”

Alaba will continue to keep growing, too. She’s had a pretty good start.

“She doesn’t play like a freshman,” Jackson said. “She’s awesome. I talked to her before the game. I just told her to play confident and play her game. Then she did awesome for us.”

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