CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - Lauryn Fields ignored the throbbing pain in her left ankle just long enough to help the Middle Township High School girls basketball team earn a key victory Tuesday night.
Fields, who suffered a sprain in Middle's previous game, scored five of her game-high 19 points down the stretch in the Panthers' 33-31 win over Ocean City in an exciting Cape-Atlantic League National Division game.
Fields briefly left the game in the second quarter after re-injuring her ankle during a collision in the paint, but played the rest of the game.
Afterward, the senior point guard had a bag of ice taped to her leg and she hobbled from the athletic trainer's office to the locker room.
"It was very painful, but I didn't care," Fields said. "I knew I had to put the team on my back."
Ocean City (5-2), a young and inexperienced team that features just one senior - guard Taylor Price - four freshmen and two sophomores among its rotation, opened the fourth quarter by scoring six straight points to take a 29-25 lead with six minutes left in regulation.
Middle senior center Holly McKaig started the Panthers' comeback with a foul shot, then Fields converted a 3-point play to tie the contest at 29-29 with 3:36 remaining. Fields then nailed a jumper with 2:46 left to give Middle the lead for good at 31-29, then freshman Bridget Ruskey went coast-to-coast with a steal to pad the lead.
"I was ready to take over and make sure my team got the win," Fields said. "I'm the leader, and I don't mind. I'm always willing to do whatever it takes to win."
Ocean City freshman Grace Sacco hit a jumper to cut the gap to 33-31 with 2:05 to go and the Red Raiders had several more opportunities to tie it, but couldn't convert.
Price led the Red Raiders with eight points.
"I couldn't be more proud of the effort from our team tonight," Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said. "Our games with Middle Township are always a battle and our inexperience in those situations hurt us a little bit down the stretch.
"We're just so young. But this is going to be good for us in the long run. Give Middle credit. Lauryn Fields showed her experience and what a good player she is in key situations."
Middle (6-3) prevailed in a back-and-forth game that featured constant momentum swings.
Ocean City took an early, 6-3 lead, but Middle rallied and led 19-14 at halftime. The Panthers, who are missing senior guard Lauren Legler with a fractured ankle, never could take control, however. Just when Middle appeared ready to open up a big lead, Ocean City fought back.
Middle had its biggest lead at 26-17, but Ocean City sophomore Olivia Briggs scored six points in a one-minute span to help the Red Raiders climb back into contention.
"Our games with Ocean City are always tough," Middle coach John Leahy said. "We never expect anything less when we play them. Give them a lot of credit because they played hard. The best thing is that we were able to learn from this and still get a win."
Contact David Weinberg:
Ocean City 10 4 9 8 - 31
Middle Twp. 14 5 6 8 - 33
OC -Price 4 0-1 8, Briggs 2 3-4 7, Sacco 2 0-0 4, Piergross 1 1-1 3, Schoenewald 3 1-2 7, Fenton 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 5-8 31.
MT - Fields 8 1-1 19, Salvo 1 0-0 2, McKaig 2 3-5 7, E. Ruskey 0 0-1 0, B. Ruskey 1 1-2 3, Riggitano 0 0-1 0, Peterson 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 5-10 33.
3-point goals- Fields (2) MT.
Records- Ocean City 5-2; Middle Township 6-3.