The Ocean City High School girls basketball will take a different approach to today’s state Group III semifinal than the one it played in two years ago.

The Red Raiders don’t want to simply make a statement. They want to win.

Ocean City (24-4), the South Jersey Group III champion, plays Central Jersey champion winner Freehold Borough (23-5) at 8 p.m. at Williamstown High School. The winner advances to Sunday’s state final at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River against the winner of the other semifinal between Jefferson Township and Cranford.

Ocean City’s last appearance in a state semifinal was in 2011, when the Red Raiders faced then-nationally ranked and eventual state champion Neptune. O.C. coach Paul Baruffi knew winning would be an unlikely and huge upset. He prepped his squad to play its hardest, but Neptune won 75-40.

Things are different today. Ocean City and Freehold are more evenly matched.

“We’re not going to go there and just lay down,” Baruffi said. “We’re going to have a game plan.”

Ocean City, ranked 10th in The Press Elite 11, won its fourth South Jersey title in six years. The Red Raiders have never won a state title, however.

The current players feel this could be the year. Stellar defense coupled with the offensive post presence provided by senior Julia Duggan make the Red Raiders tough to beat. The 6-foot-2 center averages 15.9 points and 10.5 rebounds.

“We want to take states,” Duggan said. “We’re going to play our game and do the best we can (to advance).”

Neither team features an explosive offense. Each possession will be important.. Turnovers will be critical.

Gritty defense won the Red Raiders a South Jersey title. In the final minute of Monday’s 34-26 victory over Timber Creek, the score was just 29-26. Team points in Ocean City’s games are often kept in the 30s and 40s.

“We’re not built on offense,” Baruffi said. “But that defense is always there, and that’s what pulls us through.”

Ocean City has five seniors who each possess two South Jersey titles. A state championship is the next logical step.

Katie Johnson hit four free throws in the final seconds of Monday’s sectional final to give Ocean City some breathing room in a tightly contested game. During the Red Raiders’ post-game celebration, she expressed confidence in her team’s chances.

“We are a contender for a state title this year,” Johnson said.

Contact Brittany Grugan:

609-272-7210