By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you look at the Ocean City boys basketball team’s season record — 12-12 — it’s hard to see how this season could be deemed anything other than mediocre. But it takes a deeper dive to realize just how much this group has been through, and how hard the Red Raiders had to fight to earn the No. 10 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 state playoffs.
Ocean City travels to No. 7 Timber Creek this morning for the opening round of states, and win or lose it’s a pretty big deal that this team made the state playoffs considering all the injuries they’ve sustained. The Red Raiders basically played about three quarters of their season without two of their starting five.
Center Andrew Karayiannis, a senior, was able to play in just seven games all year, and Ocean City’s top scoring threat, junior guard Kori Segich, missed several weeks in January with an injury.
“Since halftime of our second game, we haven’t had the same seven guys available yet. We were lucky to win our third game, but since then (our center) has been out for a noticeable amount of time, (Sean) Sakers has been out, Dylan Schlatter has been sick. We’ve never had a week where we’ve had our top seven guys, but to these kids’ credit, guys have been filling in and doing a good job. I’m just hoping everyone is going to be healthy by the state playoffs. I think our league is as competitive as any and that gets us ready for the postseason,” said longtime head coach John Bruno. “All things considered, we’ve battled most teams as well as we can. For being .500, I’m happy with the way things have been going. With the exception of one Mainland game and EHT, all of our games have been extremely competitive and down to the last possession. We’ve played six overtime periods, including three with St. Joe’s. So, I’ve been happy with the way we’ve been resilient in the face of all the injuries and sickness.”
When Ocean City did have its full compliment of players, the team went 3-1 before Christmas, beating St. Joseph Academy by three and losing only to Hammonton, by five points. But then the injuries started piling up, and the Red Raiders went 1-6 in their first seven games after Christmas. They hit a rough patch in January, dropping games to some tough opponents, such as Mainland, Egg Harbor Township, Middle Township and St. Augustine Prep. EHT and St. Augustine Prep played in the Cape-Atlantic League championship game.
One of the good things to come out of having so many injuries and players going down for short stretches with illness is that some younger players got their opportunity to get into the lineup. Bruno said he had hope to ease sophomore Ben McGonigle into the lineup, but less than three weeks into the season, McGonigle was playing significant minutes because of the absence of Segich. Fellow sophomores Colin Thompson and Jack Porter have also logged some solid minutes for the Red Raiders.
“I have a sophomore, Ben McGonigle, we had hoped by next year he would develop to fill a role we would need, but when a few guys got hurt or sick he was forced into playing more minutes,” Bruno said. “But that has benefited him greatly. From that point of view, we’ve had a chance to develop some players. You have to take advantage of that opportunity when you get it, and we’ve had a couple of kids do that.”
Ocean City may be a No. 10 seed in the state playoffs, but don’t be surprised if the Red Raiders shock some people. A win today would put them up against No. 15 Clearview, a team that was awarded a first-round forfeit when Camden Eastside (formerly known as Woodrow Wilson) was pulled from the playoffs after an on-court scuffle during a recent game against Camden. So, the No. 2 seed on Ocean City’s side of the bracket is already out of the playoffs, and so is No. 6 Pemberton, which lost to No. 11 Absegami on Saturday.
“When we have everyone healthy, I think we can compete with just about every team in South Jersey. I think teams like Mainland, Westampton Tech, Moorestown — those top three or four teams make South Jersey Group 3 as tough as it’s been in a long time. Normally it’s just one or two teams, but this year you also have Timber Creek, I think Hammonton could surprise some people,” Bruno said. “I never know what to expect with this team, but I know we’re going to play hard and do the best we can. I wasn’t sure how tough this group would be because of their inexperience, but I think you never really know how kids are going to react, because they are high school kids. You see it develop and when you look at this team today you stop and think, ‘these kids have really come a long way.’ I’ve always been fortunate to have really good kids, and as long as they play hard, you win some and you lose some. We play the right way, we share the ball, which is something that through the years we’ve been lucky with. If you share the ball, it makes basketball fun.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays