Cherokee captures S.J. Invitational championship

Cherokee freshman Alexa Therien (second from left) is joined by teammates (from left) Ava Therien, Katie Cummiskey, Kennedy Wilburn and Lyndsay Craig in celebrating the championship win.

Two starters on the Cherokee girls' basketball team were battling the flu.

That shifted a greater portion of the weight onto the shoulders of freshman forward Alexa Therien on Sunday against Shawnee in the battle for the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament championship at Eastern High School.

In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs looked gassed and out of sorts. They allowed seven unanswered points and were trailing by one.

Maybe that wasn't much of a surprise, considering the condition of the team.

What happened next was a surprise, though. And it ended up being one of the defining moments of Cherokee's season - a 15-2 run in the final 4 minutes, 18 seconds that carried the Chiefs to a 44-33 victory.

"We all stepped up, we knew we had to win - it just clicked," Therien said.

Cherokee (20-2) had led for most of the game, and within 10 seconds of losing the lead in the fourth quarter, the team had netted a layup in transition. The next six points of the game were also in transition - including a steal and breakaway by Therien.

"We worked so hard for this, and we felt like we deserved this win," said Therien, who became the first freshman to be named MVP of the tournament, after leading the team with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four steals.

This was the second straight SJIBT title for Cherokee and the second straight MVP honor for a Therien - Alexa's sister, Izzy, now graduated, won the award last year.

Alexa's other sister, Ava, a junior, is Cherokee's leading scorer this season. The sisters are former Flyer Chris Therien's daughters.

Ava missed three days of school last week with the flu. She was one of the team's two starters, along with Kennedy Wilburn (six points), bogged down with illness in the game. After the win, Ava sounded congested and tired - but wore a broad smile.

"It was an adrenaline rush [in the fourth quarter] because we knew how much we wanted to win this tournament this year," said Ava, who finished with 12 points, including six in the fourth-quarter run. "We told each other just to suck it up for a few minutes because a second of pain is worth winning a championship."

Cameron Morgan's 13 points led Shawnee (16-9).

Cherokee 6 9 14 15 - 44

Shawnee 10 2 10 11 - 33

S: Lauren Lodge 5, Ciana Viccharelli 7, Sierra Sanson 8, Cameron Morgan 13.

C: Kennedy Wilburn 6, Alexa Therien 15, Ava Therien 12, Katie Cummiskey 3, Sarah Wallace 3, Lyndsay Craig 5.