By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
WILDWOOD — Ocean City girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi got exactly what he wanted on Wednesday night when his Red Raiders took on Methacton in the GWITDA Bracket championship game at the Boardwalk Classic. Well, except for the nine turnovers and poor free-throw shooting, of course.
Baruffi said he wanted his team to face a tough challenge with matchup problems during the holiday break, before the Red Raiders start mixing it up with Cape-Atlantic League foes come January. The Red Raiders got all they could handle from the Warriors before hanging on for a 46-40 victory — their sixth straight to start the season despite losing four starters to graduation from last season’s South Jersey Group 3 championship team.
Junior point guard Danielle Donoghue led the way for Ocean City, scoring 18 points and adding five rebounds, two assists and four steals, while Michaela Baker — a senior and the lone returning starter from last year’s team — scored six points and added eight rebounds while limiting Methacton forward Jillian Zerbe to just six points and four rebounds.
“That’s as good a team as we’ve seen so far. They had some height, which created some mismatches for us, and their bigs were stepping out and hitting threes, which made it difficult,” Baruffi said. “But for the beginning of the season, for this group, it’s a good win. I think we found out that we have some girls who can go out there and compete. And it was different people, it wasn’t always the same person. I thought tonight was Michaela Baker’s best game. She did some nice things offensively, and defensively we put her on (Jillian Zerbe), and I don’t think she scored in the second half.”
“My energy level was up there tonight. We knew they were good and their bigs were much bigger than us, so we had to work the ball around. We just had to move them around as much as we could. We had to stay in it the whole time, keep our heads in it,” Donoghue said. “We just couldn’t get ahead of them too much. They were a good team, and good competition to go against. We’re glad we came out with the win.”
The game started out with a brisk pace, as Ocean City (6-0) scored 19 points in the first quarter and took a 19-11 lead, but the Warriors (4-6) chipped away and came back to take a 23-22 lead with 2:42 left in the first half. Ocean City reclaimed the lead, 24-23, heading into halftime, then outscored Methacton 11-8 in the third quarter to push the lead to 35-31. The Warriors trailed 45-40, but Ocean City held the Warriors scoreless in the final 90 seconds to seal the win.
“There were definitely some mismatches,” Baruffi said. “It was tough for Emma Finnegan, especially, because their big girls were hitting threes. And there are going to be games like that when we go with a smaller lineup, and that was the key today.”
Ocean City got a nice lift from Abbey Fenton, who came off the bench after senior guard Kilie Wyers was briefly hobbled with a knee injury. Fenton didn’t score, but chipped in with three assists and a steal in 20 minutes of action, and Wyers and Rolls combined to score 14 points.
“We still have a lot to work on,” Donoghue said. “(Abbey) did a lot for us tonight, with Kilie getting injured, and her coming in for us was a big help. We all just need to get our confidence up there and keep working hard.”
Baruffi said Donoghue has been a key for the Red Raiders in her ability to not only run the point, but also score timely baskets.
“She still has a few things she has to learn, but I can’t ask for anything more than she’s giving us right now,” he said. “She has the confidence to get to the rim, so I’m not going to pull her back.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays