By TOM WILLIAMS
There were more than a few times during the 2019-20 girls basketball season when Ocean City could have just packed it in and gone through the motions of finishing the season.
At the start of the season the Raiders lost five of their first six games, though all five were to quality teams, including three of the top teams in South Jersey.
After that came a 15-game win streak, including victories over Mainland, Wildwood, Atlantic City and Camden Catholic. But that streak ended with a thud – a 22-point loss to Mainland in the re-match.
Two weeks later, the Raiders lost to Atlantic City in the semifinals of the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament.
But, again, these girls ventured on – winning three straight home games in the NJSIAA Group 3 Tournament and upsetting Mainland in the South Jersey final. Another big win followed over Westampton Tech in the state semifinal before the balance of the season was cancelled because of health concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
This was a team that looked better on the court than it did on paper. When you look at the stats, below, only a few things jump out. But they had the heart of a champion.
Led by seniors Emma Finnegan, Abbey Fenton, Delaney Lappin and Lauren Mirsky and prepared by Paul Baruffi and assistants Mike Cappelletti, Tim Kelley and Jeff Sobrinski, this was a team loaded with determination.
Finnegan was a force on the boards – one of the CAL’s top rebounders and shot blockers. Fenton, who played in a remarkable eight South Jersey championship games in her three-sport career, was the league’s top three-point shooter and set multiple records from behind the arc. Lappin brought athleticism and intelligence to the team and Mirsky was especially strong on the defensive end.
That quartet – plus seniors Megan Crawford and Katie Mazzitelli – will leave a gaping hole in the lineup but Baruffi will bring back junior Marlee Brestle, who filled the point guard role with remarkable intensity; sophomore Marin Panico, who developed into a force at both ends of the court; junior Stephanie Carey, who contributed strong minutes off the bench; and freshman Avery Jackson, a transfer from Pennsylvania who developed her game nicely over the course of the season and shows great potential.
Things will be a bit different next season in the CAL. Instead of competing with Mainland, Absegami, Oakcrest and Lower Cape May in the National Conference, the Raiders will be joined by Atlantic Tech, Cape May Tech, Pleasantville and Vineland. Both Holy Spirit and Cedar Creek will remain in the National Conference. Ocean City will play each of those teams twice.
The 2019-20 season was one where a dedicated group of girls and coaches, working together and never giving up, produced a South Jersey championship. In fact, they earned the right to be called Co-State Champions.
They didn’t want the season to end and it took one of the nation’s worth health scares to end it.
FREE THROWS: Paul Baruffi finished his 19th season with a 423-124 record. He is third all-time in wins at CAL schools and needs only 11 more wins to move up to No. 2. The South Jersey title was his eighth, the most girls championships by a CAL coach….Abbey Fenton’s 83 three-pointers this year was a new school record, as was her seven in one game. Her career three-point percentage of .366 was also a school record and her 238 three-point attempts this season also made the record books….Emma Finnegan and Fenton both finished among the top 25 in career scoring at OCHS – Finnegan No. 18 with 781 points and Fenton No. 25 with 663….