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LIVE VIDEO: SJ Group I girls basketball title game – Haddon Township vs Wildwood (Mon 3/4 at 5:30 pm)
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TOM WILLIAMS COLUMN: “Paul Baruffi wins No. 400”

Paul Baruffi won game No. 400 yesterday.

Tomorrow, he will take the Ocean City High School girls into the South Jersey Group 3 championship game for the fourth straight year and the 10th time overall.

The Raiders will be facing Mainland in the final for the third straight year. It will tip off at 5 p.m. in Linwood (live radio on 106.3-The Shore). Ocean City and Mainland will be playing for the title for the third straight year.

Baruffi’s teams have won three straight South Jersey titles. OCHS has won four straight South Jersey championshipss in boys cross country, girls cross country, field hockey, girls track and girls swimming – but never in basketball, boys or girls.

Yesterday, Ocean City’s fans and players took a little time to celebrate number 400 before moving on to the next challenge.

They presented the coach with a plaque, a cake and lots of balloons after wrapping up the 46-41 win over Toms River East in Saturday’s semifinal.

“I’m just glad it happened in a game like this,” Baruffi said. “It was an important game and it was a battle. We always have battles with Toms River East – they are well-coached and always can shoot the three, so they are never out of a game. I guess if you are going to win 400 you might as well get number 400 in that kind of game.”

Juniors Abbey Fenton and Emma Finnegan paced Ocean City scoring with 13 points and Danielle Donoghue added 10. The Raiders opened a 19-6 lead in the first period, with Finnegan scoring eight, and held on the rest of the way.

Tori Rolls scored four points and Lauren Mirsky two for OCHS but all six points were in the fourth quarter and included four very important free throws.

“They were big – the foul shots at the end sealed the game,” Baruffi said. “We have a deep team and that depth has helped us all season.”

Rolls and Mirsky were even more important on the defensive end, being assigned to cover Toms River East’s two top scorers.

Tomorrow the Ocean City-Mainland saga continues. Ocean City defeated the Mustangs in the 2017 South Jersey final after splitting during the regular season. Last year, Mainland won twice during the regular season, both in overtime, and then defeated the Raiders in the Cape-Atlantic League championship game, also in overtime. But the Raiders won the South Jersey final in Linwood in another game that went down to the final possession.

This year Mainland defeated Ocean City twice during the regular season, both competitive games. The Raiders won the CAL Tournament by beating Middle Township after Middle defeated Mainland in the semifinal, a game the Mustangs had to play without their 6-2 junior center, Kylee Watson, considered one of the best players in the state, because of an injury. Watson has played in Mainland’s last two tournament wins.    

“Mainland is a great team. The rivalry has never been hotter. We’ll just go over there and give it our best effort.”

Never before has a CAL school had two current head basketball coaches who each had 400 or more wins. It has probably never happened in South Jersey until now. Baruffi took over the OCHS girls basketball program when Dr. Chris Lentz stepped down to become the school’s athletics director.

“I wanted a head coaching opportunity,” he said, “and I knew John was going to be in it for the long run. I enjoyed coaching the boys JV basketball team tremendously. But I wanted my own team, I wanted to be a head coach. And I had coached a girls freshmen team, so I sort of knew what it would be like. It has been great.”

“John and I saw that picture online at Coast Sports Today (above) and we were just joking about it,” Baruffi said. “Who knew when that photo was taken that we would both go on to win so many games.”

And they have learned from each other.

“The biggest thing I learned from John was during the year that J.D. Asselta was hurt. Just move on. You can’t dwell on things that don’t go your way. We moved on that year, had a good season and got J.D. back at the end of the season. John is very good at keeping things in the moment.”

“Paul taught me how important it is to support each other,” Bruno said, “and to learn to discuss basketball situations for different insights. His experience has been invaluable to me. It has been a fun ride with him.”      

History was made again in Ocean City basketball on Saturday in a season filled with milestones. Tomorrow, in Linwood, Paul Baruffi and his girls will be seeking another historic win.