OCEAN CITY - The new-look Ocean City High School girls basketball team struggled in the first half but rallied to beat visiting Mainland Regional 35-26 Sunday at the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend.
O.C. coach Paul Baruffi has a huge rebuilding task after five starters graduated from last winter's state Group III championship team.
But the young Red Raiders gained the upper hand at 27-20 after three quarters by outscoring Mainland 13-5 during that eight minutes.
Ocean City sophomore Olivia Briggs, a substitute last year, led the Red Raiders with 11 points and six steals. Talented freshman point guard Grace Sacco, who was held scoreless in the first half, had seven points in the third quarter and finished with eight for the game.
Taylor Price, the one senior starter, added six points, including the field goal underneath that put O.C. up for good at 18-17 with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
"We're a work in progress, but I like the way we responded in the second half," Baruffi said. "I don't think we looked for anyone inside in the first half, but then we made better decisions in the second half."
Ocean City is 2-0, while the Mustangs dropped to 0-2.
Briggs, who was the third player off the bench last year, said she was a little nervous before her first home start.
"We were definitely out of control in the first half, but we gained our composure in the second half and came back and won it," said Briggs, a 15-year-old resident of Seaville in Upper Township. "We definitely worked our offense better and the shots started to fall. We're definitely rebuilding, but this was a chance to show we can be a good team and young as well."
Mainland started well and led 8-2 after the first quarter. Emilee Dalessio scored five of those points and finished with eight. The Mustangs were led by Meghan Stafford, who had nine points, seven rebounds and five steals. Melanie Malcolm added five points and six rebounds.
Stafford, Dalessio and Shea Scannell are the Mustangs' returning starters.
"We executed well in the first half and got some easy (baskets) in transition," Mainland coach Scott Betson said. "We wore out a little in the second half. We only shot 33 percent from the line (6-for-19,) and you can't do that and expect to beat a team like Ocean City. But the team has heart. They always keep running till they melt."
Mainland led 15-8 in the second quarter, but O.C. started to show some life as Briggs hit two field goals and Nicholl Fenton made two foul shots to cut its deficit to 15-14 at halftime.
Stafford hit a drive to up the lead to 17-14 to start the second half, but Sacco led a 13-3 Ocean City run in the third quarter.
"We played with more confidence in the second quarter, and we played together," said Sscco, a 14-year-old Ocean City resident.
The Red Raiders slowed it down for the fourth quarter and got field goals from Nicole Piergross and Briggs, and hit 4 of-9 free throws.
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