By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
RICHLAND — Facing the Ocean City girls basketball team is like trying to start a fire with a magnifying glass. On a cloudy day. In a word, frustrating.
The Red Raiders played their typical brand of basketball in the semifinals of the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament on Wednesday night at St. Augustine Prep, grinding down upstart Millville with relentless defense. Even though the second-seeded Red Raiders weren’t spectacular on offense, they did enough to dispatch the No. 3 Thunderbolts, 41-35, and punch their ticket to their fourth straight tournament finals appearance. They’ll take on top-seeded and undefeated Mainland (24-0) on Saturday at noon at Stockton University. Mainland beat No. 4 Atlantic City, 47-30, in the other semifinal to earn its first semifinals berth since 1996, and beat Ocean City in overtime in both their regular-season meetings.
Millville shot just 28 percent from the field and scored just nine points by halftime, and Ocean City held off a late Bolts surge with relatively little stress — aside from coach Paul Baruffi.

Kilie Wyers is one of two seniors, along with Mickey Baker, who will be making a fourth straight trip to the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game after Ocean City beat Millville, 41-35, in the semifinals. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“They are a lot more calm than I am. It’s constant reminders of things, situational things. My assistant coaches will tell you, we work on things constantly, and we don’t get everything down. We’ll get two of the five things we talk about right. They know they have to get something right before I move on. They’re getting better, but there’s still a lot of inexperience with kids who weren’t in these big games before,” Baruffi said. “This is a testament to how hard these girls worked in the offseason. A lot of them waited their turn. They got beat up in practice — I mean, imagine going up against (former point guard) Grace Sacco every day. That’s not easy. So, I felt like we could do some good things this season. We’ve taken some tough losses, but we’ve played a lot of good teams. We’ve played the No. 1 team in South Jersey (Mainland) twice, we’ve played Lenape, we’ve played Paul VI, Gloucester Catholic — we did all that to prepare for this.”
“That’s the biggest thing for us, to stay calm in these moments. We just have to play our game throughout, and I think we did a good job of that today because we stayed calm,” added guard Kilie Wyers, one of just two seniors along with forward Mickey Baker.
Sophomore Emma Finnegan, along with Baker, kept in check Millville’s star 6-foot-2 center Alexis Harrison, a senior 1,000-point scorer. Harrison finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, but only got to the free-throw line three times.
“We challenged her with Finnegan and I thought she did a heck of a job,” Baruffi said. “We played Gloucester Catholic on Sunday, and we took a loss, but Emma battled their center, so we figured let’s go with her (on Harrison) and I thought both defensively and offensively she gave us a lot today. And we had Mickey Baker to help her out.”
Ocean City (18-7) built a 33-24 lead with four minutes to go when Baker scored on a fast break, but Millville (18-5) cut it to 37-30 with 1:02 remaining on a bucket by Diamond Rivera and a free throw from Harrison. But the Red Raiders hit enough free throws down the stretch to keep the lead and seal the victory.

Abbey Fenton grabs an errant pass during Ocean City’s win over Millville at St. Augustine Prep. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


Getting back to the finals is impressive for an Ocean City team that replaced four starters from last year’s team that won the CAL Tournament and South Jersey Group 3 championship, and advanced all the way to the Group 3 state championship game. This will be the eighth CAL championship game appearance for the Red Raiders, and they are the first team since Absegami in 2003-2006 to make it to the title game four years in a row. Ocean City won titles in 2007-09, 2015 and last year, and is 5-2 all-time in championship games.
“Right now, we just feel really blessed and so thankful to be able to get this far. We’re really excited to go play on Saturday at Stockton,” Wyers said. “We’ve been there the past three years, so to accomplish this our senior year is really exciting. I have, and have had, full confidence in this team all season. We work hard every day and I know we can accomplish the things we want to.”
“This is an amazing feeling, especially since we lost four seniors. We had a lot of doubts on our backs coming from other teams, but we knew our program was strong and that we were capable of doing this. Our team is very close, and we push each other in every game and at every practice,” Baker added. “I knew it would be hard (to make it back to the finals) because some of the girls had never been on the varsity court, and if they did, they didn’t get a lot of time at all. I knew it would be hard, and it was hard the first couple of games, we weren’t really working together as a team, but this game shows how far we have come and that we’re capable of winning championships if we play together. Win or lose, it’s a great experience. We have a chance to win, and I think we can. We just have to finish games strong.”
Baruffi gives a lot of credit to his two seniors, who have led the way along with juniors such as Danielle Donoghue and Tori Rolls. Those two combined for 10 points and seven assists against Millville, while Abbey Fenton added eight points. Finnegan led the way with 10 points and seven rebounds.
“These two seniors, they’re going to the finals all four years. The first one (when they were freshmen) they weren’t out there on the court, but the last two and this one they’ve been part of it,” Baruffi said. “I talk all the time about getting to Stockton and having the experience of playing on that court, what it’s like to be in a South Jersey final. You can talk about those things, but until you experience it, it’s a whole different thing. But I wanted them to think that way. I didn’t want them to take a step backward this year, and that’s why we challenge them. They did a great job today getting back to the final.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays