By BRIAN CUNNIFF
OCEAN CITY — With 3 minutes, 29 seconds to play in the third quarter, Charlie sank a three-pointer that gave the Middle Township High School boys basketball team a 41-39 lead over Ocean City.
You started to get the feeling the old Tom Feraco magic might be making another appearance.
But Ocean City ended the potential fairytale return of the venerable longtime Middle coach by scoring 22 of the next 26 points and went on to post a 65-48 victory.
Middle trailed by six at the half but three-pointers by Matt Marino, Jeremiah Camacho and McNeal helped the Panthers forge their brief two-point edge. But Ocean City’s Gannon Brady and Tom Finnegan — a pair of Division I college commits for baseball — went on to dominate the remainder of the third quarter.
Finnegan scored 11 of his 23 points in the quarter and Brady posted seven of his 23 points in the period.
Mike Rhodes then went on to star in the fourth quarter for the Raiders, scoring seven of his 15 points.
“We got beaten up,” Feraco said. “Give Ocean City credit for their aggressiveness and our turnovers. We got beat on the boards and turned the ball over too much and that’s a bad combination.”
Middle scored just one field goal in the fourth quarter, a three-pointer by Marino, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
Despite the 17-point loss, there were encouraging signs for the Panthers. They hit 10 three-pointers as a team, with nine coming from Marino and Camacho, who finished with 16 points. Middle also showed signs of playing the way Feraco likes his team to play — tough interior defense, crisp ball movement on offense, dribble kickouts and post passing to open shooters, competing for every loose ball.
“You look at the big picture, we need some muscle, we need some guard play and we need to change the culture,” Feraco said. “We have a long row to hoe.”
Feraco returned to the bench this season after a three-year hiatus. In his previous stint, he posted a 719-215 career record and led Middle to nine South Jersey titles and three state championships.
He was asked if it felt odd being back on the bench for a game.
“I don’t know,” he said with a smile. He then added with a chuckle, “I didn’t work the officials over too much, did I?”