OCEAN CITY-The Ocean City girls basketball team is no stranger to playing games in March.
The Red Raiders annually have one of the region's best programs, with three South Jersey Group III titles in the last five seasons.
Ocean City has the chance to make it four titles in six years after beating Delsea Regional 41-23 in a sectional semifinal Saturday afternoon. The top-seeded Red Raiders (23-4), No. 10 in The Press Elite 11, will host No. 6 seed Timber Creek for the championship at 6 p.m. Monday.
Delsea (14-13), the fifth seed, had no answer for Ocean City's 6-foot-2 senior Julia Duggan. Duggan scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead her team to the sectional final.
Ocean City's defense prevented the Crusaders from getting open looks in the second half. Delsea was contained to eight points in the final two quarters. The Red Raiders drew their possessions out as long as they could, which was no easy task thanks to the Crusaders' pressure defense.
"We wanted to use up as much clock as possible," O.C. coach Paul Baruffi said. "We had to cut them off and (on defense) stay out on their shooters, especially (Delsea's Taylor Christina and Amanda Schmidt)."
Ocean City's plan worked. Schmidt led the Crusaders with eight points but was scoreless in the second half. Christina was limited to five points.
As it has all season, Duggan's post presence sparked Ocean City's offense. She scored eight points during a second quarter that put the Red Raiders up by 10 at halftime. Several times she was waiting under the net to put back missed shots.
Duggan won a South Jersey title in 2011 at as a sophomore. She has enjoyed numerous individual achievements since then.
With her high school basketball career near its end, Duggan wants to help her teammates win a championship of their own.
"It was one of the goals I had for this year. I got a title my sophomore year. I got my 1,000 points, I got my 1,000 rebounds," Duggan said. "Now it's time for me to do this for them."
Duggan is surrounded by a talented cast. Seniors Katie Johnson, Mary Kate Mateer and Natalie Landi are aggressive defenders and capable scorers. Freshman Nicole Piergross has shown maturity and composure in big games despite her youth.
Piergross became a starting guard when sophomore Karissa Bourbeau suffered a season-ending knee injury in Ocean City's second game of the season. She has thrived in her new role.
"It's surreal that I get to experience this as a freshman. It's very exciting," Piergross said.
Ocean City has cruised through the South Jersey Group III bracket. The Red Raiders outscored its opponents by an average of 22 points in the first three rounds.
Timber Creek upset third-seeded Central Regional with a one-point victory before beating a very strong No. 7 seed Seneca in the semifinals.
If the Red Raiders play as consistently as they have, they can win another South Jersey title - the first for some and the second for others.
"We wanted to get there. Now we're there, so we've got to (win it)," Duggan said.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Delsea Regional 8 7 2 6-23
Ocean City 11 14 11 5-41
DR-Alba 2 0-0 4, Stuart 2 0-0 4, Christina 1 3-4 5, Schmidt 3 0-0 8, Schaffer 1 0-0 2. Totals-9 3-4 23.
OC-Johnson 1 3-5 5, Piergross 4 1-3 9, Mateer 1 0-0 2, Landi 1 0-0 2, Duggan 6 5-6 17, Price 1 0-0 2, Solazzo 1 0-0 2, Pfiefle 1 0-0 2. Totals-16 9-14 41.
3-pointers-Schmidt (2) DR.
Records-Delsea 14-13; O.C. 23-4.