Staff Writer
OCEAN CITY — The tough thing about beating the Ocean City boys basketball team is that you can’t just key on shutting down one guy. You have to find a way to stymie all five guys on the floor at one time, something that only Holy Spirit and Atlantic City have been able to do so far this season.
On Saturday night, visiting Egg Harbor Township trailed just 39-36 late in the third quarter at the annual Butch Gleason Memorial Coaches vs. Cancer Day, but the Red Raiders went on an 18-2 run to close out a 57-38 victory. Ocean City did what it does best — it got contributions from up-and-down the lineup, and by the halfway point in the fourth quarter it was clear there wasn’t going to be any thrilling comeback from the Eagles.

Ocean City’s Donovan Graham and Ian Aungst (25) fight for a rebound with EHT’s Jordan Sweeney during the Red Raiders’ 57-38 win over the Eagles. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

Early in the fourth, EHT trailed 44-38 but missed four straight free throws. Ocean City, winners of six straight games, then got a 3-pointer from Luke Varallo, another three from Joey Sacco, a blocked shot by Mike Rhodes and an inside bucket by Tommy Finnegan, and all of a sudden it was 52-38. Gannon Brady added a running baseline floater at the 2:50 mark to make it 57-38, and neither team was able to score in the final two minutes as Ocean City grinded down the clock.
The boys game was part of an annual doubleheader that follows the Upper Township vs. Ocean City middle school doubleheader, and proceeds go to cancer research. In the high school girls game, Ocean City cruised past Egg Harbor Township 50-14. Also, prior to the girls game, Ocean City included a 40th reunion celebration of the 1979 Red Raiders girls team, coach by Pat Dougherty, that won the South Jersey championship. The annual event was renamed a few years ago after Butch Gleason, a member of the 1964 state championship team who passed away in 2014.
“The first half of the season, I wasn’t shooting the ball the way I wanted to, but tonight I was feeling it,” said Varallo, who finished with a game-high 18 points and helped lead Ocean City to its 11th win. “We knew they had a big guy (Jordan Sweeney) and a guard who can shoot (Michael Dodd), and they can get hot, and once they get hot they’re not going to stop. So, we just tried to lock down on the defensive end and take our chances.”
“At halftime, coach (John) Bruno was telling us to slow it down and play with composure because in that first half, sometimes we were just trying to go to the rim really fast,” added Sacco. “So we started moving the ball around to find the open lane. Coach was telling us to slow it down, play good defense, and on the offensive end work the ball around and look for open shots or look for the open drive. It worked out for us in the second half.”
In the first half, EHT got to within 22-19 on a driving layup by Isaiah Walsh, but then Ian Aungst nailed a 3-pointer and Varallo scored four straight points to help Ocean City extend its lead to 29-19 at the break. The Eagles cut the deficit to seven points, 37-30, midway through the third, then got two straight buckets from Walsh to get to within 37-34, but again the Red Raiders answered, as Brady nailed a short jumper to make it 39-34. Another drive by Walsh cut it to 39-36, but EHT was limited to just two points the rest of the way. Brady finished with 14 points for Ocean City and Donovan Graham added nine, while Sweeney led EHT with 12 and Walsh and Dodd added 11 and 10, respectively.
Ocean City improved to 10-2 with the victory and is in a tie with Lower Cape May and Mainland for first place in the Cape-Atlantic League’s National Conference, while EHT slipped to 8-8, but are still 4-1 in the CAL American and in a second-place tie with Millville. Sacco and Varallo said outsiders might be surprised that the Red Raiders are eight games above .500, but the players aren’t.

Abbey Fenton and Ocean City had reason to smile after beating Egg Harbor Township in the first half of the Butch Gleason Memorial Coaches vs. Cancer Day doubleheader to improve to 9-3. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)

“At practice, we try to make at least five passes before we shoot the ball just to prepare for the games that way, so we’re not selfish. We knew we could be here competing with the better teams (in the CAL) and we’re proving it right now,” Varallo said.
“Just like last year, no one expected us (to be successful), but we’re not afraid to play anyone,” Sacco said. “I know (EHT) has struggled in the past, so for them to come out this year and have a good season is great for them. They play great as a team, and I’m glad we got the win today. It wasn’t easy.”
Ocean City 50, EHT 14 (girls): The host Red Raiders (9-3) got some solid play from Savanna Holt and Emma Finnegan and jumped out to an 11-0 lead to start the game. They led 19-2 after one quarter, and built a 34-7 lead by halftime. Finnegan finished with a game-high 13 points, Danielle Donoghue added nine, and Holt and Abbey Fenton each contributed eight. Sierra Hegh and Mackenzie Mahana combined for nine points for the Eagles (7-5).
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays