OCEAN CITY - The Ocean City High School girls basketball team has had its share of ups and downs this season.
Expected to be the Cape-Atlantic League's top team, the Red Raiders dropped out of the CAL title mix at midseason after losing three conference games in two weeks.
Ocean City suffered some unexpected losses in the regular season and learned what adjustments needed to be made.
A list made by Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi after a regular-season loss to Egg Harbor Township highlighted the fundamental errors made most often during games. The Red Raiders took the list to heart and dedicated themselves to improving.
The strides made by the Red Raiders down the stretch propelled them into their playoff run and led them to seven wins in a row and a sectional title. Ocean City beat Moorestown 48-34 in the South Jersey Group III championship game on Monday.
Ocean City's previous losses this season don't matter now. The fourth-seeded Red Raiders (24-6), No. 11 in The Press Elite 11, won their third South Jersey title in four years.
"I'd rather be doing what we're doing now," Baruffi said. "Of course, you want to win those other games, but if they learned something from them, then you can deal with it."
Junior forward Emily Duggan scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while her sister, Julia, a sophomore center, added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Duggan sisters relished the opportunity to get experience playing against girls their size. Moorestown has several tall, physical players.
Emily and Julia Duggan went to the foul line 14 times and made a combined 20-of-27 free-throw attempts.
Moorestown (13-15) came out sharp, jumping to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Quakers were in the midst of a surprising playoff run having beaten teams such as Timber Creek and Central Regional en route to the sectional final.
Stephanie Toy, a junior who already has committed verbally to play lacrosse at the University of Notre Dame, showed off her speed and agility. She scored four points during the opening run.
"They're young and they're a tough team," Baruffi said. "I could foresee down the road playing them again, for sure."
Ocean City struggled to score early. Despite being 28-for-43 at the line for the game, the Red Raiders' free throw shooting kept them alive in the first quarter. Emily Duggan was 6-for-6 in the first half.
Junior guard Emily Gillian sparked the second-quarter rally that enabled Ocean City to take over the game. Gillian scored eight of her 11 points, including two key 3-pointers.
A 3-point shot by Moorestown's Nikki McMonagle put the Quakers up by seven early in the period. Gillian hit two 3s in a minute-and-a-half to bring the Red Raiders within a point.
"I was confident when I shot the ball, I got myself open and my teammates helped me out and I helped them back," Gillian said.
Julia Duggan put O.C. ahead for the first time with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half after she was fouled grabbing a rebound. She sank both free throws to put the Red Raiders up 18-17, and they held the lead for the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, Ocean City played solid defense. Reilly Larkin was impressive and forced a number of turnovers.
The Red Raiders knew Moorestown had a few strong outside shooters. They took away nearly all 3-point shots and guarded the Quakers' tough and physical forwards as closely as they could.
"We were a little shaky at the beginning, but we went out there and did what we could and it won us the game," Julia Duggan said. "We wanted to get here. We got here, and we won. It's so exciting."
Ocean City will face Neptune (25-1), the Central Jersey champion, in a state semifinal game Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Williamstown.
The Red Raiders know they face a daunting task in Neptune, which decisively beat Holmdel 95-51 in the Central Jersey final. Baruffi said the team will give its best effort.
For now, Ocean City celebrates another South Jersey championship.
"Some games have been more difficult than others, but we've kept our composure, kept our confidence and kept winning," Gillian said.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Moorestown 12 8 8 6-34
Ocean City 7 15 10 16-48
M-Toy 2 4-4 8, Angeleri 1 2-2 4, Filoon 2 0-0 5, McGinley 2 1-2 6, McMonagle 2 0-0 5, Randazzo 1 2-2 4, Leskow 0 2-2 2. Totals-10 11-12 34.
OC-Johnson 0 3-6 3, Gillian 2 5-10 11, Larkin 1 0-0 2, E. Duggan 4 10-12 18, J. Duggan 2 10-15 14. Totals-9 28-43 48.
3-pointers-Filoon, McGinley, McMonagle M; Gillian (2) OC.
Records-Moorestown 13-15; O.C. 24-6.