HAMMONTON - The Ocean City High School boys basketball team will find itself in an unexpected place today - practice.
The 14th-seeded Red Raiders continued their surprising state tournament run with a 58-46 win over sixth-seeded Hammonton in the South Jersey Group III quarterfinals Wednesday night. Ocean City (10-14) will play at second-seeded Delsea Regional in the semifinals Friday.
"This is unbelievable," said Ocean City senior guard Jeremy Sullivan, who scored a game-high 18 points. "We all thought we were having our last practice last Saturday. Being the 14 seed is tough. But now we get to practice (today). It's awesome."
Ocean City sank 8-of-12 3-point attempts and 16-of-20 foul shots Wednesday. Red Raiders sophomore Connor Laverty sank 4-of-4 3-point attempts and scored 15 points. Sullivan was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
"We live and die by the three," Sullivan said. "Today, we shot it really well. We were able to get it in the paint and kick it out for wide-open threes, and we were connecting."
A group of enthusiastic Hammonton students gathered in the stands to watch the game. Ocean City had advanced to the quarterfinals with a 58-57 win at third-seeded Toms River South on Tuesday.
The teams met twice during the regular season - Hammonton won 49-48 on Jan. 7 and Ocean City won 51-49 on Feb. 4.
On Wednesday, it wasn't just how well Ocean City shot 3-pointers. It was just as important when the Red Raiders sank them.
Hammonton forward Justin Harris (15 points) sparked the Blue Devils in the first quarter. Hammonton (12-14) finished the quarter with a 10-0 run to take a 21-13 lead. Hammonton players Kelvin Rivera and Josh Trocki sank 3-pointers during that stretch. The Blue Devils finished the game 5-of-16 from 3-point range.
"I told the team 'you're going to have to dig yourself out of this hole,'" Ocean City coach John Bruno said.
Ocean City quickly did that. The Red Raiders' first four baskets of the second quarter were 3-pointers. Laverty made two of them. Sullivan made a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left in the first half to put Ocean City up 25-23. The Red Raiders never trailed again.
"It's a game of runs," Laverty said. "You just have to weather them. Sometimes the other team is going to play better than you. You have to make a run of your own."
Hammonton did make a run at Ocean City in the third quarter. The Blue Devils cut the lead to three. But Ocean City again responded with a timely 3-pointer. Laverty sank one with 1:25 left to give Ocean City a 38-32 lead. The Red Raiders preserved that advantage by sinking 11-of-13 foul shots in the fourth quarter. Guard Griffin Grimes made all four his fourth-quarter free-throw attempts.
"All season we just talked about making to the playoffs," Laverty said. "We worked hard all season. The playoffs are all that matters, and we're starting to peak at the right time."
Delsea Regional (19-9) advanced to the semifinals with an 84-55 win over seventh-seeded Lacey Township on Wednesday.
But the Red Raiders are having so much fun they don't appear to care who their next opponent is. They're happy just to still be playing.
Ocean City is better than its record. The Red Raiders lost three games by a point and six contests by six points or less.
"I'm just hoping the kids enjoy the moment," Bruno said. "For us to be one of the last four teams (in South Jersey Group III) is great for our program. Everybody else has lost. It's a credit to our kids."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Ocean City 13 14 11 20 - 58
Hammonton 21 2 9 14 - 46
OC – Sullivan 6 3-5 18, Ruggia 2 4-6 9, Grimes 0 4-4 4, Laverty 4 3-4 15, Kelleher 5 2-2 12. Totals 17 16-21 58.
HAM – Harris 6 2-4 15, Rivera 5 0-0 11, Giberson 2 1-2 6, Siligato 2 0-0 5, Huey 3 0-1 7, Trocki 1 0-0 3. Totals 19 3-7 46.
3-pointers - OC. Sullivan (3), Laverty (4) Ruggia; HAM. Harris, Rivera, Giberson, Siligato, Trocki.
Records - Ocean City 10-14; Hammonton 12-14