MONROE TOWNSHIP — Julia Duggan watched some of Ocean City High School’s most talented girls basketball players growing up.
In 2008, she watched Kelly Brady and Nancy White lead the Red Raiders to their first state final appearance since 1979.
Duggan, then a highly touted eighth-grader, aspired to one day be a leader of one of the area’s most highly regarded programs.
The 6-foot-2 senior will get to play in a state title game of her own.
Duggan scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Ocean City to a 35-26 victory over Freehold Borough in a state Group III semifinal at Williamstown High School. The Red Raiders (25-4), No. 10 in The Press Elite 11, will play Jefferson Township (23-7) for the state championship Sunday at a time to be determined at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
“I always hoped to go to a state final,” Duggan said after the game. “It’s something I always wanted but
didn’t know if I’d get.”
This is not the most-talented group the Ocean City girls basketball team has produced. But the Red Raiders are hard workers and usually find ways to grind out wins.
Ocean City survived a fourth quarter that got a bit sloppy toward the end. After Freehold (23-6) scored just eight points through the first three quarters, the Colonials scored 14 in the final period.
Freehold cut its deficit to seven points late in the fourth, but a jumper by O.C. freshman Nicole Piergross (nine points) took away the momentum the Colonials had built.
After the buzzer sounded, Red Raiders coach Paul Baruffi let out an exasperated sigh of relief.
It wasn’t the most flawless victory, but it was good enough to keep Ocean City’s season alive.
“That’s us,” Baruffi said. “We’re not going to win pretty (every time).”
Errors aside, Freehold had no answer for Ocean City’s defense. The Red Raiders simply didn’t allow any open shots.
Duggan and senior forward Natalie Landi were unmatched on the boards. The duo combined for 21 rebounds — the Colonials had 16 as a team.
Baruffi and his coaching staff broke down footage of Freehold’s players Tuesday. He saw who should guard whom.
One matchup was easy — Duggan and Colonials’ senior Camerin Spahn (10 points) were AAU teammates.
The Red Raiders denied enough in the first three quarters to give themsleves a comfortable lead. Freehold made zero field goals in the first quarter.
“The girls did a great job being where they needed to be to cut them off,” Baruffi said.
Ocean City has played in two state finals and lost both. The Red Raiders have consistently been in the mix, however, with four South Jersey titles in the last six seasons.
This year’s group has a strong blend of determination, veteran knowledge, talented youth and a Division I leader in Duggan, who will play at Rider University.
This group of Red Raiders is one win away from making history.
“It’s really exciting. It’s the first opportunity we’ve had (in years) to play in this game,” Piergross said. “It would be amazing to win it.”
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Freehold Borough 2 4 2 14—26
Ocean City 9 6 8 12—35
FB—Duffy 1 0-0 3, R. Cobb 3 0-0 6, S. Cobb 1 2-2 4, Spahn 2 5-6 10, Kandell 1 0-0 3. Totals-8 7-8 26.
OC—Johnson 1 4-4 6, Mateer 1 0-1 2, Piergross 3 2-2 9, Landi 2 1-2 5, Duggan 3 5-8 11, Price 1 0-0 2. Totals-11 12-17 35.
3-pointers—Duffy, Spahn, Kandell FB; Piergross OC.
Records—Freehold 23-6, Ocean City 25-4.