DEPTFORD-- The first celebration was an eruption of emotion at center court.
The second one carried a sigh of relief along with the jubilation exemplified in the middle of the hardwood just a few minutes before.
Ocean City had to celebrate its 58-57 win over Ewing and a berth in the Group 3 final twice due to a foul that was called in the paint in the fight for a rebound.
The Red Raiders, and everyone in the crowd, thought the game was over, but Ewing received one more chance to send the game into a second overtime.
Ewing junior Mya Grimes made her first foul shot with 0.4 seconds left on the clock, but her second bounced off the rim and triggered another wave of red at halfcourt.
“That last 0.4 second foul was kind of ridiculous,” Ocean City senior guard Grace Sacco said. “But we still won the game so it was a weird ending. The whole game was hard fought and overtime was as well.”
Every little detail mattered in a game where Ocean City fought against plenty of adversity, starting with two first quarter fouls to senior forward Rosalia Daddi.
Ewing took advantage of Daddi’s absence by attacking the paint and opening up an eight-point advantage at halftime.
That’s when the challenge to the younger players on the Ocean City bench came from head coach Paul Baruffi.
A three-ball from junior Kilie Wyers that rolled around the rim before falling in gave the Red Raiders a 40-38 lead with 5:44 left in the fourth. Wyers hit another massive shot seconds before Daddi fouled out.
“I challenged the younger girls at halftime,” Baruffi said. “Kilie Wyers came in and made some big shots. I told them all year you’ve been looking at me like you want to get in there at prime time and they came out and did it.”
When Daddi fouled out, the task was handed to freshman Emma Finnegan to provide the Red Raiders with a paint presence, and she performed admirably.
“She’s great” Sacco said. “She’s only a freshman, but this season she’s come off the bench and given us great looks. Rosalia fouled out so we needed her. She made some foul shots, she took a charge, she got some rebounds, that’s what we need, our bench players doing the little things that count.”
No matter who was the floor for Ocean City, Sacco was the calming force, whether it be with poise dribbling up the court, composure at the foul line or patting a teammate on the back after a bad play.
“She’s been huge all year,” Baruffi said. “ Having a point guard like Grace is just unbelieveable.”
“Being a point guard and a senior, I have to keep my team together, but we all know each other and pick each other up,” Sacco said. “We stayed with it and we pulled it out.”
It seemed fitting that Sacco was at the line ready to seal the victory in overtime, but the rim that was kind on Wyers’ three earlier, hurt the senior as the first of her two shots rolled out. She missed the second and Ewing drove the floor to set up a final possession.
As the ball bounced away from the rim, the Red Raiders ran out to celebrate the first time, but even though they had to wait a few more tense minutes, they have their spot in the championship game and will play Pascack Valley on Sunday.
“We’ve had a great season and like i’ve said from the beginning, we want to go out with a bang as seniors,” Sacco said.