South Jersey Sports Report: OC Hits Late 3-Pointer to Down AC
ATLANTIC CITY — Senior guard Abbey Fenton had hit exactly one shot prior to the fourth quarter of Ocean City’s matchup with Cape-Atlantic League American Conference-leading Atlantic City on Friday night, and even in the fourth quarter a bad turnover caught the ire of Red Raiders coach Paul Baruffi and sent Fenton to the bench.
But when Ocean City needed a shot, Baruffi knows to draw up a play for an athlete who has played in a ton of big games throughout her soccer, basketball and lacrosse careers — including as a goalkeeper for the Red Raiders’ state championship-winning soccer team this past fall.
After Sanai Garrison-Macon nailed a pair of free throws to give Atlantic City a 38-37 lead with 56 seconds left, Baruffi called a timeout on Ocean City’s next possession and drew up a play to free up Fenton for a 3-pointer in the right corner. Fenton found herself wide open and drained the shot, and the Red Raiders’ defense came up big on the other end to secure a 40-38 victory — Ocean City’s seven straight after a five-game losing streak that spanned from before Christmas until Jan. 5.
“I knew my shots weren’t falling in the first half but coach Baruffi always tells me to keep shooting, that they aren’t going to go in if you’re not shooting them. So, I kept my confidence. I knew we had to score some points, and that shot went in,” Fenton said.
“She’s been in a state championship soccer game so I don’t think this is going to be overwhelming for her,” Baruffi said. “She knew what we wanted out of her on that last play. It was designed to draw her defender away and she was ready to shoot it.”
Comin’ in hot: Ocean City (8-5, 5-0 CAL National) came in riding a six-game winning streak, including divisional wins over Holy Spirit, Absegami, Oakcrest, Lower Cape May and Cedar Creek, as well as a 10-point overtime win over Egg Harbor Township. The Red Raiders’ last loss came on Jan. 5 against Lenape.
Atlantic City (10-3, 5-0 CAL American), meanwhile, had won six of its last seven, with its only loss a 49-40 setback to Mainland Regional. The Vikings got off to a good start, jumping out to a 5-0 lead, but then Ocean City came roaring back with a 13-0 run that stretched into the second quarter.
Both teams played aggressive defense, as Ocean City led just 22-16 heading into halftime. Coach Baruffi used a variety of defenses to try to slow down Atlantic City’s balanced scoring attack, while the Vikings were able to counter the inside presence of Ocean City forwards Emma Finnegan and Lauren Mirsky with the likes of Cornysha Davis, freshman Quanirah Montague, and senior Alex Fader, who recently returned to the lineup following a concussion.
“They play tenacious defense, and I thought we handled it the best we could. They don’t have just one person who is quick guarding people — No. 24, the freshman (Montague), she came up and was really a factor for them defensively,” Baruffi said. “I thought we battled, but so did they. It was just a good high school basketball game. We were in zone defense for the most part, but at the end, if they were going to hold the ball, we went back to man just to change it up on them. But hey, that game was going to come down to whoever got the break at the end, and we just got the last break.”
“We knew it was going to be tough. We practiced a lot of pressure defense situations the past couple of days. They are a really good team so we knew it was going to be a close game the whole time,” Fenton added. “We had to capitalize on their mistakes, finish around the basket and do all the little things. That’s what helped us win this game.”
Topsy-turvy fourth quarter: The game was all knotted at 27 heading into the final period, and neither team could gain enough momentum to get any significant separation. Atlantic City went ahead, 32-30, on a pair of buckets from Garrison-Macon, but with 2:16 remaining Fenton hit her second 3-pointer of the game to give the Red Raiders a 35-34 lead.
Finnegan then hit 2-of-4 from the free-throw line over the span of two possessions to push the lead to 37-34, but then the Vikings got free throws from Naysha Suarez and Montague, and a pair from Garrison-Macon, to pull ahead, 38-37, with 56 seconds to go. That set up Fenton’s heroics on Ocean City’s next possession.
Sister rivalry: The game featured a unique set of circumstances, as the point guards from each team are sisters, Madison Brestle, a senior for Atlantic City, and Ocean City junior Marlee Brestle. This was the first time they squared off as starters on varsity, as Marlee has worked her way into a starting role this season.
“We’ve been undefeated in the CAL, and this was also a big game for me because I was playing against my sister, so it’s been a sister rivalry all week,” said Marlee, who finished with four points before fouling out late in the game. “We’ve been going back and forth with each other, so I knew going into this game I had to play well. It was fun. I was excited. It was getting a little emotional there at the end, I was like, ‘we need to score!’ But it was a good game.”
“It’s fun. I’m a little bitter right now,” Madison (team-high nine points) said with a chuckle. “I’m happy for her, she played a great game. She’s a beast, my sister, and she played a great game. I was excited.
“We were smack talking each other and all that stuff, but it was fun. I was super excited for this game, it was highly anticipated because something like this doesn’t happen very often,” she added. “We were joking around and stuff, but once the game starts the switch goes off and it’s game time. When you’re in the game, it just feels like it’s game time.”
Tough love: Baruffi doesn’t have the type of experience he’s had in years past, but that didn’t stop him from loading up his schedule early in the season. He wants his team to be ready to play championship-caliber basketball in February, which is why he took on teams like Rancocas Valley, Washington Township, Cherokee, Kingsway and Lenape early in the season. The Red Raiders got off to a 1-5 start, but playing teams like those might be paying dividends now.
The Red Raiders have a big game against Mainland Regional at home on Sunday night to finish up the 97.3 ESPN FM Shootout, and they’ll have senior guard Delaney Lappin in the lineup. She sat out most of the season with an injury but returned on Wednesday in the win over Cedar Creek and was a big factor against Atlantic City in terms of handling the ball against pressure defense.
“Our opening schedule was as tough as anybody and I took those games for this purpose — getting down to this time of the year,” Baruffi said. “We might not have won a game like this earlier in the year. And having Delaney back has been huge, she’s all over the court and brings senior leadership. She’s so athletic and smart, she can play multiple positions so I can move her to different spots. It’s really nice to have her back.”
What’s next: Ocean City hosts Mainland Regional on Sunday at 7 p.m. Atlantic City hosts Bridgeton on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays