By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — John Bruno, longtime boys basketball coach at Ocean City, has a tried-and-true philosophy: if you share the ball, basketball can be a pretty fun game.

There’s no limit on the fun Bruno’s Red Raiders are having these days in the locker room after games, as Ocean City — seeded No. 10 in the South Jersey Group 3 state playoffs — continued to crash the party on Friday night, rolling past No. 11 Absegami, 56-39, to punch its ticket to the sectional championship game. The Red Raiders will travel to No. 4 Moorestown, a 32-29 winner over top-seeded Mainland Regional, on Monday with a South Jersey title on the line.

Things opened up for Ocean City before the tournament even began, as No. 2 Camden Eastside was pulled from the tournament by its own school district after an on-court frackas with rival Camden just before the postseason began. In the opening round Ocean City — a team that struggled with injuries all year long but finally has a full, healthy lineup — upset No. 7 Timber Creek, 68-63, and in the quarterfinals Ocean City blasted No. 15 Clearview, 73-50. Clearview advanced with a forfeit victory over Camden Eastside.

Absegami’s Isiah Akpassa puts up a shot over Ocean City forward Pat Grimley during the first half. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“This is a great experience. It was frustrating at times this season, but we overcame it as a team, and here we are,” said junior guard Kori Segich, who spent much of the season on the bench as one of Ocean City’s injured starters. “I was always confident, and I think everyone else was, too.”

“It’s been a big build-up to this. With the amount of injuries this team has been through, we just stuck to it,” said senior guard Omero Chevere. “It just shows how much heart this team has and how well we play together. I think deep down we always knew we could do it, it was just a matter of time. We had so many guys coming in and out of the lineup. It seemed like the starters were different every night. But we pulled through.”

The teams traded punches throughout much of the first half of the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week, but Ocean City (15-12) went on a quick spurt to close out the second quarter and that made a big difference in the game. Instead of being tied going into halftime, Absegami (18-10) found itself down 28-23 after Ocean City ripped off five unanswered points in the final 50 seconds of the first half.

Center Andrew Karayiannis — another player who missed most of the season due to injury — nailed a short jumper to give Ocean City a 25-23 lead, and then Segich scored a traditional three-point play off a steal to push the Red Raiders’ lead to 28-23. Ocean City never trailed again, as the Raiders got two big 3-pointers early in the third quarter from senior guard Sean Sakers to stretch their lead out to 36-26.  

Ocean City point guard Dylan Schlatter goes baseline for a jumper during the second half of the Red Raiders’ win in the sectional semifinals. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“We play good team basketball,” Chevere said. “It’s not one person who we always go to — any night somebody can go off. It just fell together like puzzle pieces. It was just good team basketball tonight.”

Ocean City, which won its fifth straight game, didn’t have one standout player, but everybody contributed. Sakers and Segich each finished with 12 points while point guard Dylan Schlatter added 11, and Chevere and Pat Grimley combined for 15 more. Hassan Bey led Absegami with 15 points while Charles Jerkins finished with 11.

Ocean City, a team that was just .500 heading into the state playoffs, now turns its attention to Moorestown, which got a buzzer-beating three to beat top-seeded Mainland on Friday afternoon. The Quakers have won six straight, including victories over some tough teams, such as Lenape, Hammonton, Cherokee and Mainland.  

But, Ocean City has surprised people to this point and the Red Raiders believe they are good enough to win this championship.

“It’s a great feeling. I just want to keep playing, just one more game,” Chevere said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere (in the championship game), we just have to respond in the right way.”

What’s Next: No. 10 Ocean City vs. No. 4 Moorestown in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game, Monday at 6 p.m. Absegami’s season is complete.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays