By TOM WILLIAMS
This has been an unusual season for Cape-Atlantic League basketball. Though some teams – Egg Harbor Township, St. Augustine, St. Joseph, Holy Spirit – have been as strong as expected, others who would normally be on that list have struggled.
Things have been no different for Ocean City High School teams.
The boys are 8-9 at this moment, with four of those games going into overtime. The girls are 8-5 with a game scheduled for tonight with Pleasantville being postponed.
That has been the key word for this CAL season – “postponed”.
Actually, the Raiders have been rather fortunate. The girls have had to reschedule a few games but the boys only lost one game so far, a showcase game with Overbrook at the Boardwalk Classic.
This boys team has been fun to watch. They entered the season with virtually no varsity experience (the players had scored a combined 23 points in 43 total minutes) and little size. And junior Andrew Karayiannis, who gave them eight strong games on the baseline, has missed the last nine with a foot injury.
In addition, sophomore Pat Grimley missed the first nine games following an illness and sophomore Kori Segich has been in and out of the lineup with a series of injuries, missing six games altogether. He had to leave Tuesday night’s game at Holy Spirit after five minutes with a knee injury.
Still, they played Wildwood Catholic down to the wire twice before losing. That included a three-pointer at the buzzer in the season opener at home by Sean Sakers that was one of the greatest shots ever made in the Dixie Howell Gym. He was so deep into the corner it looked like he was in the wrestling room. Sadly, it just cut a four-point deficit to a one-point defeat. Had it been a game winner it would likely have shown up on ESPN.
There was senior Conor Muskett’s three-pointer and sophomore Dylan Schlatter’s impressive foul shooting in the final minute of a win over Mainland. Senior Colin Randles drilled a three-pointer in the final 90 seconds to lead to a win over Woodbury. Sakers and junior Omero Chevere made three free throws in the final 26 seconds to secure an overtime win over Bridgeton. Schlatter was six-for-six in the overtime period to beat Cape May Tech.
And then there was the extraordinary fourth quarter against Lower Cape May when the Raiders were down two with 19 seconds left but only had one team foul. They could not put Lower on the line. But they committed six fouls in 10 seconds and, when Lower missed the free throw, Sakers sliced through the defense for a layup with three seconds left that tied the score. Two free throws by Schlatter and one by Grimley in the final 45 seconds of the second overtime won the game.
By the way, the last time Ocean City had four overtime games in one season was in 2017 – and they lost all four that year. This year’s team has won three of the four. And the last multiple overtime game was in 2011 when they beat Egg Harbor Township, 62-60, after Chris Turner and Luke Hogan made five free throws in the final 40 second of the second extra period. John Bruno is now 29-17 in overtime games during his career.
The girls have lost two one-sided games to Mainland, the best team in the CAL. The Mustangs are ranked No. 6 in South Jersey, as of Feb. 2, and the No. 1 public school team. No. 18 Timber Creek and No. 16 Gloucester Catholic beat the Raiders in close games and OCHS was upset by Middle Township. But a win over Wildwood Catholic moved the Raiders into the Top 25. Check out those rankings HERE.
Mike Cappelletti’s team played its first seven games without senior Marin Panico, one of the key players the past three years. She has brought strength and consistency to the lineup since her return. According the available stats, junior Avery Jackson leads the team in scoring, rebounds and steals. Sophomore Hannah Cappelletti leads the team in assists and is a deadly perimeter shooter. She drilled six of them, one short of the OCHS record, in the win over Wildwood Catholic. The Raiders have also gotten significant contributions from senior Taylor Wenner; juniors Maddy Monteleone, Tori Vliet and Ayanna Morton; sophomore Frankie Ritzel; and freshman Madelyn Adamson.
You can see the girls game-by-game results HERE.
The Cape-Atlantic League Tournament starts in a couple weeks. The girls will be part of it but the boys are in a tough spot. The girls will probably finish first or second in the National Conference, pending next week’s two games with Vineland. Both teams are undefeated in the conference. The CAL girls standings are HERE. The boys are tied for third place in the American Conference but the two losses to Wildwood Catholic really hurt their chances of a wild card spot in the tournament. About their only chance to be selected is to win the rest of the way – at Middle Township tomorrow, at Lower Cape May Saturday, home games with Bridgeton and Atlantic City next week and the regular season finale at Hammonton on Feb. 15. The CAL boys standings are HERE.
By the way, the first round of CAL Tournament games will be on the courts of the highest seeded teams on Feb. 18, 19 or 21. The boys semifinals will be Feb. 23 at Millville, the girls semifinals will be Feb. 24 at Atlantic City and the championship doubleheader Feb. 26 at Absegami.
In NJSIAA Group 3, both OCHS teams will qualify to play.
Currently (Feb. 2) the girls are No. 6 in power points in the group. That would mean a home game in the first round. If the tournament started now, that game would be against Hammonton. Mainland is seeded No. 1 in Group 3 power points and Absegami is No. 3.
The boys are currently No. 8 in power points and, ironically, if the tournament started now (Feb. 2) they would also host Hammonton. Mainland is seeded No. 5, Cedar Creek No. 10 and Absegami No. 12. The top 16 in each group, based on power points, will qualify.
In case you are wondering why Don Ho is coaching the OCHS boys this season, it really is John Bruno. He is wearing a Hawaiian shirt at every game, he says, until this COVID thing gets back to normal. He has enough shirts. They reportedly take up most of the former closet space of his daughters, Chelsea and Jullian. Bruno starting wearing one at every Friday game years ago as a tribute to the memory of Mike Baldayga, a former teacher’s aide who died. “Big Mike” wore a Hawaiian shirt to work every Friday.
There will be live video streams of three OCHS games next week – the boys against Bridgeton on Monday, the girls vs. Vineland on Wednesday and the boys with Atlantic City on Friday. You can watch those three games, plus previous games this year and in earlier seasons, HERE.
Two people with close connections to OCHS basketball died recently.
Bud Swan was a multi-sport athlete at Ocean City High School, including the last state championship boys basketball team in 1964. That is him, below, between John Cranston and Barry Banks (second from right) in probably the most iconic photo in OCHS sports history, taken just after the Raiders’ state title win at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Bud was 74 and battled Parkinson’s Disease for 21 years.
And Corinne Baruffi, 91, a retired school teacher, was the mother of former OCHS girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi. But she was more than just an interested fan. She frequently offered her son strategy advice and he used her renowned Italian cooking to inspire and reward his players for accomplishments.
Bud Swan and Corinne Baruffi were among the people who have made OCHS basketball something special.