By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
OCEAN CITY — Many girls basketball teams may have crumbled under the pressure Woodrow Wilson put on host Ocean City in the third quarter of Saturday’s sectional semifinals.
However, Red Raiders point guard Grace Sacco made sure her teammates didn’t lose their composure in a 47-34 win. In fact, when the game was at its closest, the Red Raiders played their best basketball.
Top-seed Ocean City (28-1) outscored No. 5 Woodrow Wilson (17-12), 12-2, in the fourth quarter and held the Lady Tigers to just one field goal in the final 10:11 of the game. The win sets up a South Jersey Group 3 championship game with rival Mainland Regional on March 7. The Mustangs topped Winslow, 36-25, in the other semifinals matchup.
“In the third quarter, we came out slow and they hit a couple shots, so we knew the end of the third and fourth quarter we had to get back to the way we play,” said Sacco, who finished with 12 points and six assists. “They were pressuring me the whole time, pretty much, and I knew if I could get by, one of my teammates would be there for me and that’s what happened. We got some transition points.”
“She has been doing that for four years,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi sad. “It’s awesome to have a point guard who does what Grace does. She handles pressure that most people wouldn’t be able to handle.”
Up 12 points at halftime, it appeared that Ocean City was ready to run away with the game, but Woodrow Wilson seemed like a different team in the third quarter. The Lady Tigers opened the second half with an 8-0 run, including two straight 3-pointers by Suhelly Santiago.
Sadie Ford’s drive momentarily slowed down the Lady Tigers, but they did not go away. The teams traded baskets in the final 2:42 of the third quarter to make it a 35-32 game heading into the last eight minutes.
That’s when Alexis Paone took center stage. The Red Raiders guard opened the fourth with six straight points to give her team some breathing room. She scored eight points in the quarter and finished with a game-high 15.
“It is frustrating at the beginning of the game when shots aren’t falling, but I try to keep a shooter’s mentality and just forget about it and think the next one is going in,” Paone said. “That helped me in the second half.”
She added: “That was huge for us. They got it within three and we had to keep our composure.”
Paone’s outburst was coupled with the Red Raiders playing tough defense, particularly by Ford, to keep the Lady Tigers to just two fourth-quarter points.
The Red Raiders now turn their attention to the Mustangs, who handed Ocean City its only loss of the year. It will be the third time the teams meet, with each winning once on the road. Of course, this time, a sectional championship is at stake.
“They are a good team, we are a good team and it’s for a South Jersey championship, obviously,” Sacco said. “It is going to be competitive. We are not ready for the season to be over.”
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO