TOMS RIVER — No loss is easy, but the Ocean City High School girls basketball team will have an easier time getting over Tuesday night’s than most.
The Red Raiders lost 45-23 to Red Bank Catholic in the first round of the Tournament of Champions at the Pine Belt Arena.
While they were emotional afterward, the Red Raiders didn’t need to be reminded that they are still the state Group III champions.
“We went further than we expected to go,” said center Julia Duggan, who led Ocean City with 12 points, six rebounds and two steals. “I feel like winning the state title and accomplishing something like that for our high school for the first time in the history of the high school, it makes it a little easier because we did so much.”
The Red Raiders (26-5), seeded sixth in the TOC, hung with the third-seeded Caseys (29-1) for most of the first half. Mary Kate Mateer’s basket with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left in the second quarter cut RBC’s lead to 16-12.
But the Caseys responded with a Caroline Corcoran 3-pointer just 41 seconds later to start a 24-6 run that lasted until well into the fourth quarter.
“We were able to stay with them (because) they didn’t get out in transition,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said. “And in the second half, they got out in transition and got some baskets, picked up some momentum, and they did a great job of converging on us any time we tried to do something.
“They all handle the ball so well. That was my biggest worry — that they would penetrate and kick (the ball out) like they did. … We did the best we could. It just wasn’t good enough.”
RBC has not lost to a New Jersey team this season, but the Caseys don’t have one standout player. They are not particularly big, either, with no starters taller 5-foot-11.
RBC played tenacious team defense, getting in the passing lanes for 14 steals. When Ocean City managed to get the ball inside, RBC players usually were there to either get a block or force an off-balance shot.
Offensively, the Caseys moved the ball so well that most of their baskets were layups or open 3-pointers. Grace Fallon led the way with 13 points and Alex Barazotti added 12.
“They definitely handled the ball really well,” Duggan said. “They shot well. And they went by us way too many times and kicked it for three points, made the layups, finished it off, and that just hurt us a lot.”
The Caseys had the crowd on their side, too. RBC is only about 30 miles from the Pine Belt Arena — Ocean City is 60 — and the Caseys brought cheerleaders and a large student section.
Plenty of Ocean City fans made the trip, but they were not nearly as loud as the RBC students, who chanted and cheered throughout the game.
“They single you out,” Ocean City’s Natalie Landi said with a smile. “They were like, ‘35, you can’t guard her!’ So, I mean, it’s a little hard, but you’ve kind of just got to get it out of your head. Then you hear our moms, like, singing. So it’s a little more encouraging.”
A group of Ocean City fans cheered the Red Raiders as they emerged from the locker room afterward. It was the last time that Duggan, Landi and fellow seniors Katie Johnson, Mary Kate Mateer and Tess Solazzo will suit up for the team.
Despite Tuesday’s loss, the seniors went out in style, giving the program its first state title.
“We only had four losses all season, and it’s hard to gain our fifth one after such a high,” Landi said. “I think the emotions right now, everybody’s crying. I’m on the verge. But it’s just because we had such a good season and we’re so sad to see it go. But, seriously, we made history. I couldn’t ask for much better.”
Note: Red Bank Catholic moves on to face second-seeded Rancocas Valley Regional, which had a first-round bye, in a semifinal game at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Pine Belt Arena.
Contact Jason Mazda:
Ocean City 6 6 4 7—23
Red Bank Catholic 11 8 19 7—45
OC—Johnson 0 1-2 1, Mateer 2 1-2 5, Duggan 6 0-0 12, Solazzo 1 0-0 3, Price 1 0-0 2. Totals 10 2-4 23.
RBC—Fallon 6 0-2 13, Corcoran 3 0-2 8, Barazotti 4 3-4 12, Caverly 1 0-0 2, Alfano 4 0-0 8, Balocco 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 3-8 45.
3-pointers—Solazzo OC; Fallon, Corcoran (2), Barazotti RBC.
Records—O.C. 26-5, RBC 29-1.