By BRIAN CUNNIFF
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Ocean City and Middle Township high school girls basketball teams played another down-to-the-wire contest in the Cape-Atlantic League championship game Saturday at Richard Stockton University.
This time, Ocean City made the most plays in the final two minutes and came away with a 39-33 victory for the program’s sixth win in the CAL title game, most all-time among girls teams. The CAL title game was first played in 1992.
A steal and layup by Tori Rolls with a little more than a minute to play gave Ocean City its first lead since the second quarter and was the key basket during an 11-1 Raider run to close the game.
“We work hard to try to build up to this as the (regular) season winds down and winning this is a great step for us,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said. “I’m happy for the girls. They’ve worked so hard.”
Down by seven midway through the second quarter, Middle used a 10-0 run to take a three-point lead at the half at 22-19, then opened the second half by scoring five of the first six points to build a 27-20 advantage.
Ocean City responded, however, outscoring Middle 19-6 the rest of the way.
“Our defense did it for us,” Baruffi said. “I thought our press, our 2-2-1, was effective and I thought we scrambled pretty well out of our man-to-man.”
Rolls, a senior guard, made the key play of the game by stepping into the passing lane during Ocean City’s press defense, securing the ball and racing the basket for the layup.
“We had a scrimmage her freshman year against a super-quick team and she came up with this steal out of nowhere that I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Baruffi said. “I knew right there that she was going to be an unbelievable athlete for us. And she’s got it up top with her smarts, too.”
Middle had a chance to tie or retake the lead after Rolls’s basket, but the Lady Panthers committed a lane violation on the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity. Ocean City’s Danielle Donoghue then sank two free throws and Rolls caught a long pass from Donoghue for a layup off an in-bounds play in the final 25 seconds to seal the win.
Donoghue led Ocean City with 12 points. Abbey Fenton added 10, making three three-point shots one game after sinking four from that distance in the team’s CAL semifinal win over Wildwood Catholic.
Kira Sides played a brilliant game for Middle (21-5), making 4 of 6 three-point shots and scoring a game-high 24 points. Sides scored all but one of Middle’s points in the second half.
Middle did not score a field goal in the fourth quarter, netting just three points.
Ocean City (20-6) won in its fifth straight appearance in the CAL title game. Three of the last four games were against Middle, Ocean City winning in overtime in 2017 and Middle winning in overtime in 2016. Ocean City also lost the 2018 game in overtime to Mainland.
“We knew this game would go down to the wire,” Baruffi said. “(Middle coach) John (Leahy) and I have been doing this however many years and I don’t remember the last time we played when the game wasn’t anything but what you saw today.”