Raider girls win first state title

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TOMS RIVER – The wait is over.

Long considered one of the best high school girls basketball programs in southern New Jersey, Ocean City captured its first-ever state championship with a 50-37 victory over Jefferson in the Group III title game Sunday afternoon at Pine Belt Arena.

“This is the greatest feeling ever,” Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi said. “It’s awesome. We’ve worked so hard for this for years. I’m so proud of the kids for this to happen.”

The Raiders placed three players in double figures, led by senior forward Mary Kate Mateer, who posted a game-high 14 points and eight rebounds. Mateer’s output more than made up for the limited work of Rider-bound senior teammate Julia Duggan, who played only 3 ½ minutes of the first half and less than 18 minutes overall due to foul trouble. Duggan still finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

“Mary (Kate) was awesome,” Baruffi said. “She played their best player on defense and she made big shots.”

Duggan was forced to the bench after being whistled for her second foul midway through the first period with the Raiders leading 4-1. Despite missing their star player, the Raiders went on an 11-3 surge to close the period ahead at 15-4 by making four of their next seven shots from the floor after Duggan sat down.

“We talked before the game that this will not be all about Julia,” Baruffi said. “I told them the rest of them were going to have shots and they have to let them go.”

Ocean City (26-4) took a 23-15 lead into the half, with Duggan spending the entire second quarter on the bench.

The Raiders extended their lead to 12 points late in the third period, before senior forward Natalie Landi, who finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, sank a desperation three-point shot from 25 feet at the buzzer of the third quarter to extend her team’s lead 39-24 at the close of the period.

That’s hard to come back from when you make a shot like that

Ocean City later built its lead to as high as 16 points in the final period, with Jefferson getting no closer than nine points in the final period.

Ocean City was making its third appearance in a state championship. The team had lost in 1979 and 2008.

“We’ve run into some really good teams,” said Baruffi, who’s in his 12th season as coach. “Probably my best team didn’t even win a South Jersey title because we ran into those Woodrow Wilson teams (in the early 2000s). Sometimes it’s about matchups and sometimes you need a little bit of luck. I’m very proud of the girls.”

The Raiders will next compete in the Tournament of Champions, a six-team event featuring the six state champions that begins Tuesday evening at Pine Belt Arena.

(For more coverage, see this week's editions of the Ocean City and Upper Township Gazettes.)

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