By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — Shooters have to keep shooting, even when it seems like they couldn’t throw a basketball into the ocean from the side of a boat. Mainland Regional junior Claudia Mairone was 0-for-6 from 3-point range through most of six quarters against Gloucester Catholic on Saturday at the Seagull Classic at Holy Spirit High School. That didn’t stop her from hoisting another one with her team training by one with less than four seconds left in double-overtime.
The inbounds play was set up to go to star sophomore forward Kylee Watson on the block, but the Mustangs couldn’t get the ball inside and Mairone knew time was running out. So, she took the shot, and calmly knocked it down to give Mainland a thrilling 54-52 win over a determined and talented Rams squad.
“I came off a screen, and the biggest girl on their team came at me and I was like, ‘I kind of have to shoot it because there was like no time left.’ It was the only one I made in the game, so that was nice. I knew there wasn’t a lot of time left and that was the only option. I think I jumped higher than I’ve ever jumped in my life (after the shot went in),” Mairone said. “It wasn’t a play specifically for me. We were saying that if we couldn’t get it to Kylee, me and Francesca were the other two options. I just kind of shot it. We faced a lot of adversity during the game, but we knew when (Baines) missed her foul shot that we were still in it. We got that far, we just needed to finish it.”
Even after Mairone’s shot went down, Gloucester Catholic had a chance to tie or win the game as star guard Azara Bained drove the length of the court in the final seconds, but her buzzer-beating shot came too late and was off the mark.
“Claudia is awesome. I’ve grown up with her my whole life. She is such a good shooter, even though she might miss some,” said Watson, who finished with a team-high 24 points and nine rebounds. “It was awesome when she made it, but we all had to get back on defense even though we wanted to celebrate. But it was awesome. I’m so proud of her.”
“On the inbound, we were trying to get something to Kylee cutting to the rim, but they did a really nice job of taking away everything in the paint. I knew it would have to be a jump shot at some point. We drew up a little pick-and-pop set and had options on either the right or left side,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson, who picked up his 100th career win. “Claudia buried one that we knew she could. She’s the type of shooter where even when she’s missing, it’s halfway in. She’s a little too tough on herself at times, but we tell her to keep shooting. I have faith, even when she’s missing, that they are going to go. The one that went came at a really big spot.”
Mainland (7-0) got off to a great start and built a 17-7 lead after a Georgia Schoen 3-pointer in the second quarter, but the Rams (6-2) refused to go away and eventually battled back to cut the deficit to 33-31 by the end of the third quarter. Baines was a big reason the Mustangs couldn’t put them away, as she finished with 27 points, including a highlight-reel, behind-the-back driving layup.
“She was really good,” Mairone said. “One time, I went to get the ball and she carried it around her back. I was like, ‘oh, OK.'”
“They are a great program, have had a lot of success and have some great players, obviously. It’s just a testament to our kids. We have a lot of kids who have been in a lot of tough games, we have a couple of seniors in the lineup, and the way (this game) went was a reflection of the type of kids they are,” Betson said. “I think a little bit of our issue today was — and not to make excuses — but we hadn’t practiced since our last game. I was trying to work a little harder to get them to slide over and get an offensive foul (on Baines), but I don’t think we had enough reps at it, especially with a player like that because she’s a generational type of player. She’s really good, so you have to be a little bit more prepared than that. We just weren’t very prepared.”
Watson, who was a member of Team USA’s U-16 squad last summer, played a huge role in the overtime periods from the free-throw line. She hit four straight to tie the game, 43-43, and send it into the first overtime, then hit 3-of-4 to tie it again at 47 and send the game into a second overtime. Senior Gabby Boggs also came up with some huge offensive rebounds in the second overtime, and blocked a Baines shot at the end of regulation to force overtime.
“The good thing is our team has a lot of great players and a lot of good shooters. We have a lot of assets, which is really nice, so it’s not all on me, ever, because we are such a good team together,” Watson said. “I think I’ve learned a lot, that I need to make better decisions. I treated this like any other game, obviously we all came out knowing (Baines) is a good player and we needed to defend her. We played our game, and being able to finish it out and make it really exciting was pretty good. I think we did a good job of getting up and down the court, and helping the helper (on defense) and stuff like that. It was a team effort. Gab’s awesome with (rebounding). This game was crucial, just to get the little things and make every play count.
“They were physical and big. We made some mistakes offensively, trying to force something when it wasn’t there, and other times were weren’t looking when it was. I think part of that is we weren’t very sharp,” Betson said. “The difference between the first half and the second half is we knocked down jumpers in the first half. It wasn’t so much that we missed them (in the second half), we just stopped taking them. My message to them was you have to let it fly because that could be the difference. It just so happened that it came on the last play of the game.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays