Duggan photo

Center Julia Duggan, The Press Girls Basketball Player of the Year, has been a premier player for Ocean City for several seasons.

Ben Fogletto

Julia Duggan hoisted the state Group III girls basketball trophy over her head March 10.

The Ocean City High School senior stood in the center of her teammates as they celebrated the first state championship in program history. The 6-foot-2 center was an integral part of their unprecedented postseason run that ended in a 50-37 win over Jefferson Township in the Group III final.

In four seasons with the Red Raiders, Duggan surpassed 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She led the team to two South Jersey titles and — in her final season — a state title.

Duggan is The Press 2012-13 Girls Basketball Player of the Year. She finished her career with 1,666 points and 1,183 rebounds.

“It’s hard to see it end. Ocean City basketball has been my home,” said Duggan said. “The girls I’ve played with have made this experience the most memorable thing in my life so far.”

Duggan has been Ocean City’s premier player for several seasons.

Her role evolved this year, though. Without another go-to scorer, the Red Raiders relied on her to provide much of their offense.

Duggan didn’t disappoint, averaging 16.0 points and 10.7 rebounds. Her presence on the boards gave Ocean City advantages on both ends of the court.

Her biggest contribution, however, was her leadership to teammates with varying levels of experience. That didn’t end with the conclusion of games or practices.

“In the past, she was a leader as far as what she did on the court,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said. “It was more off-the-court stuff this year.”

Duggan was unique from some of the other exceptional players that have passed through Baruffi’s program. Duggan’s size and strength made her the area’s top post player, but she has the ball handling skills of a guard and was often seen running the Red Raider’s offense from the top of the key.

Her ability to adapt to in-game situations prompted her teammates to learn to do the same.

Duggan handled the pressure of being the best player on one of the state’s top teams with modesty. She credited her fellow seniors for providing support.

“It was a big role to step into. We had such an intense team last year. Having to take over all that was a big deal for me. I think I handled it well,” Duggan said. “I wanted to spread some of the leadership around the team. We all had a different role.”

Duggan will leave an unmatched legacy in Ocean City basketball history. She was an integral player during the program’s most successful stretch of seasons.

Moving on is a bittersweet feeling for Duggan. It will be difficult for her to leave coaches and teammates that have become like family.

She looks forward to finding out what her next role on the court will be at Rider.

“It’s a big step,” Duggan said. “I think I’m ready to go onto that and I’m excited to see what it’s like.”

Team of the Year

Ocean City (26-5) entered the season as a favorite in the Cape-Atlantic League and a South Jersey Group III contender.

Back in December, not many — including the Red Raiders themselves — saw a state Group III championship run in their future.

Ocean City’s playoff success showed just how far the Red Raiders came in a few months.

“I had some people who surprised me,” Baruffi said. “When people step up like that, it changes what happens with your season.”

Ocean City won the state Group III title and finished No. 7 in The Press Elite 11.

The Red Raiders had veteran leadership from Duggan, point guard Katie Johnson and forward Natalie Landi. But without the efforts of players such as senior forward Mary Kate Mateer and freshman guard Nicole Piergross, Ocean City may not have enjoyed such success.

Mateer and Piergross — each players Baruffi admittedly did not expect to be starters — became contributors. Piergross gave Ocean City a legitimate outside shooting threat. Mateer, who averaged about five points during the regular season, led the Red Raiders with 14 points in the state final against Jefferson.

Being able to rely on players other than Duggan at any moment helped the Red Raiders’ transition from contenders to champions.

“We were just burning out every single game, if we were winning by 20 or 10 or three,” Duggan said. “We played until the very end with all the heart we have. That’s how we play, and that’s why we won all those games.”

Coach of the Year

Over the course of 12 seasons at Ocean City, Baruffi has become one of the area’s most respected and revered coaches.

His methodical preparation for games often gave the Red Raiders a distinct advantage against even unfamiliar opponents. Under his guidance, Ocean City won four South Jersey titles in the past six years.

He reached the peak of his coaching career when Ocean City won the state Group III championship.

Baruffi is The Press Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

“He is probably the one person I can say has the most passion I have ever seen for the game of basketball,” Duggan said. “He puts in so much time and effort.”

Baruffi is strictly business on the court. Even he couldn’t hide his excitement after the biggest win in the Red Raiders’ history.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

Contact Brittany Grugan: