The phrase, "it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that counts," could rightly apply to the Ocean City High School girls basketball team.
After winning their first game of the regular season, against Millville Dec. 19, 2019, the Red Raiders went on a five-game slide, albeit against extraordinarily tough competition.
Some could have considered the team at a crossroads, later taking a path toward victory. After a 1-5 start, Ocean City went on a 15-game winning streak, from Jan. 9-Feb. 12. They entered the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III Sectional Tournament, as the No. 2 seed, and won the sectional championship, with a 32-29 win over top-seeded Mainland.
They advanced to the State Group III Championship, versus Ramapo, which was canceled due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“The South Jersey Final, against Mainland, stands out as a most memorable game,’’ head coach Paul Baruffi said. “I thought the girls gave a great effort as a team to win this game. They played great team defense and made crucial baskets at the end of the game.
“It was special making it to the state championship game this season, especially after starting with a 1-5 record. We played a very difficult opening schedule, and after this start, the players could have easily given up. Instead, they worked very hard to get to the Group III Finals. I don't know if I've ever been more proud of a team.’’
Throughout the season's wins and losses, leadership was a constant for the Red Raiders.
“My seniors really emerged as leaders,’’ Baruffi said. “I would say Abbey Fenton and Emma Finnegan were more vocal leaders, Lauren Mirsky and Delaney Lappin more with their play. Abbey and Emma also showed great leadership by their play on the court.’’
Baruffi was pleased with how several of his players improved individually throughout the season.
“Marlee Brestle, as my new point guard, really did a great job all season,’’ Baruffi said. “Her hustle is consistent in every game.
"I also thought Marin Panico, as a sophomore, had some big games and baskets in crucial games. Avery Jackson, as a freshman, gave us some quality minutes and improved as the season went on.’’
Ocean City finished 23-8, and they were 11-1 atop the Cape Atlantic League National Division, along with Mainland.
“We have a core group of younger players that got some experience,’’ Baruffi said. “It will definitely be a rebuilding year, but I think the returning players will work hard to make it a good season.’’