OCEAN CITY — Seneca High School’s game plan in the South Jersey Group III girls basketball semifinal was to play smothering inside defense and force Ocean City to rely on its outside shooters.

Third-seeded Seneca began to pull away in the third quarter en route to a 62-54 victory over second-seeded Ocean City on Friday night at Ocean City High School.

“What they were playing was a box-and-one,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said of Seneca’s defensive zone coverage. “We knew they were going to and we had planned for it. We had open shooters. That wasn’t the problem.”

Ocean City found the open shooters, making nine 3-pointers. Sam Robinson and Reilly Larkin led the way with three apiece.

But Seneca coach Sean Kennevan said they were willing to let them shoot rather than have the Red Raiders, No. 9 in The Press Elite 11, work down low to junior forward Julia Duggan, who led Ocean City with 17 points.

“Julia Duggan is a great player,” Kennevan said after the game. “We respect her and said that we can’t let her beat us. I don’t want to take anything away from the other girls, but if we were going to lose, it wasn’t going to be because she had a great game.”

Seneca was led by senior Taylor Watson, who scored nine of her game-high 19 points in the first quarter as the Golden Eagles took a 15-12 lead.

They led for much of the second quarter, too, until Duggan grabbed an offensive rebound at the 1-minute mark and was fouled on a shot. Duggan made both free throws to tie the game at 23, then Larkin drained an 8-footer off of a steal to give the Red Raiders a 25-23 lead going into the half.

Larkin finished with 13 points.

It was the only time Ocean City would lead, as Seneca outscored the Red Raiders 18-8 in the third quarter. Watson hit two early 3-pointers to reclaim the lead.

“Knowing we were down, we talked about it at the half,” Watson said. “If they were chasing us down, I’d pop out and hit a three.”

Watson did, and the Golden Eagles carried the momentum into the fourth quarter with a 41-33 lead.

Ocean City hit five 3-pointers in the final quarter, but Seneca’s free-throw shooting prevented the Red Raiders from picking up any ground when they were forced to foul.

“We still caused some turnovers,” Baruffi said. “But once we got down eight or 10 points, we had to start fouling to stop the clock.”

The Golden Eagles shot 15-for-20 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, led by Brittany Snow, who made 6-of-6, and Molly Garthwaite, who made 6-of-7.

“We were shooting good,” Kennevan said. “We wanted to go to the free-throw line because our girls are so poised.”

The loss prevented Ocean City from winning back-to-back South Jersey Group III titles.

Seneca advanced to the final, where it will face top-seeded Delsea Regional, which beat Central Regional 39-27.

“They’re a good team,” Baruffi said of Seneca. “I think we are, too, but they hit more shots than we did. Sometimes that happens against good teams.

“It’s tough for our seniors. All of them have been on the winning side before ,and now we’re on the other end. I told them to handle it with class and I know that they will.”

Contact Jeff Sporer:

609-272-7210

Seneca 15 8 18 21—62

Ocean City 12 13 8 21—54

S—B. Snow 4 6-7 14, Metzger 2 1-3 5, Watson 8 0-2 19, Garthwaite 2 6-7 10, E. Snow 2 4-6 11, Richer 1 0-0 3. Totals—20 17-25 62.

OC—J. Duggan 5 6-6 17, Johnson 1 0-0 3, Landi 3 1-1 8, Larkin 4 3-4 13, E. Duggan 1 0-0 2, Robinson 4 0-0 11. Totals—15 10-11 54.

3-pointers—Watson (3), E. Snow, Richer S; J. Duggan, Johnson, Landi, Larkin (3), Robinson (3) OC.

Records—Seneca 24-4; Ocean City 24-5.