BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — Mandy Buirch shot the ball so well she stunned herself Wednesday night.
Never mind the favored Ocean City High School girls basketball team.
Buirch sank 2-of-3 3-point attempts and 7-of-8 foul shots as fifth-seeded Sacred Heart upset top-seeded Ocean City 54-42 in the Cape-Atlantic League semifinals at St. Augustine Prep on Wednesday night.
The Lions (19-6) will play third-seeded Holy Spirit for the CAL title noon Saturday at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township. Sacred Heart won the tournament as the top seed last season.
“This means a lot,” Buirch said. “No one thought we would get this far.”
Buirch’s shooting prowess helped Sacred Heart build a double-digit lead in the second quarter. The Lions’ advantage never dipped below 10 points in the second half.
So why did Buirch shoot the ball so well?
“I have no clue,” she said. “I think this is a hard place to shoot.”
Not many teams shoot the ball well in St. Augustine’s spacious gym, where the lighting is dark and the distractions are many.
“It’s so open in here,” Buirch said. “There’s the crowd. There’s so many things around this gym you can just stare at.”
Still, Buirch sank 4-of-7 from the field to score a team-high 17 points. And she wasn’t the only Sacred Heart player to shoot well.
Alyssa Ferrucci made 2-of-4 3-point attempts and Kennedy
Johnson made 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.
“We were just focused,” Buirch said. “We focused on our shots.”
Meanwhile, Ocean City (19-4) struggled to sink shots. The Red Raiders made just 3-of-24 (12.5 percent) from the field in the first half. Ocean City finished 15-of-57 (26.3 percent) for the game.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Sacred Heart,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said. “They played well. But when you shoot like we did, you’re going to get this result. It’s kind of a helpless feeling. You’re searching. You’re trying to get something to go. But it just wasn’t our night.”
Wednesday’s contest was a rematch of last year’s CAL final, which Sacred Heart won 44-43 in the final minute. Wednesday’s game did not have as much suspense.
The Lions closed the second quarter with a 12-2 run to build a 28-13 halftime lead.
Ferrucci began that stretch with a 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half. Buirch finished it with a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left before halftime.
Sacred Heart used a combination of defenses to slow Ocean City standout Julia Duggan. The Lions played man-to-man, a matchuop zone and a box-and-one.
Duggan scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half, but the Red Raiders never seriously threatened in the final two quarters.
The Lions made Ocean City work on nearly every second-half possession for 20 to 30 seconds to get the ball inside to Duggan.
A Ferrucci 3-pointer gave the Lions a 19-point lead after the third quarter. Sacred Heart also led by 19 with two minutes left in the game. The Lions received strong second-half efforts from guard Ciani Carter (10 points, three assists) and forward Kaila Smith (nine points, 13 rebounds).
This is the second year of the CAL tournament. The Lions are the first underdog to make a tournament run. Sacred Heart beat fourth-seeded Middle Township 51-48 in the quarterfinals last Friday.
Few things are as compelling in sports than upsets in a basketball tournament.
Sacred Heart has overcome some adversity this season. Two top players from last season’s team transferred to different schools last spring.
“We like the tournament setup,” Sacred Heart coach Steve DiPatri said. “This has been a rewarding season. A lot of people counted us out, but our kids have gotten better every step of the way. They believed in Sacred Heart basketball and the program and here we are.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Sacred Heart 11 17 11 15—54
Ocean City 7 6 7 22—42
SH—Buirch 4 7-7 17, Carter 4 2-2 10, Smith 4 1-4 9, Ferrucci 2 0-0 6, Johnson 4 3-4 12. Totals 18 13-18 54
OC—Johnson 2 2-2 6, Mateer 3 0-0 6, Piergross 1 1-2 4, Landi 0 2-2 2, Duggan 8 6-10 22, Price 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 11-16 42
3-pointers —Buirch (2), Ferrucci (2), Johnson SH; Piergross OC
Records—Sacred Heart 19-6; Ocean City 19-4