By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — The key to beating the Mainland Regional girls basketball team is to play tough on the interior, grab rebounds, and be able to shoot well from the outside. Some teams have been able to do that this season, but not for all four quarters.
Atlantic County Institute of Technology was hot from the outside to start Saturday’s matchup in the second game of an ACIT-Mainland basketball doubleheader, getting a pair of 3-pointers from Julianna Montero and 12 first-half points from Kayla Sykes, but foul trouble hurt the RedHawks early in the third quarter and the Mustangs began to pull away. Kylee Watson finished with 19 points and sharpshooter Claudia Mairone added 14 as the Mustangs remained undefeated with a 58-39 victory.
Mainland improved to 13-0 ahead of big showdowns against Wildwood Catholic, Ocean City and Absegami next week.
“I knew they were going to be tough. We had to play hard and give everything we had. We knew after halftime we had to come out and go on a run,” said Mainland guard Taylor Dalzell.
“They did a lot of things we expected them to do. The difference was, they hit four threes in the first quarter and that will do a lot for you in high school basketball,” added Mustangs coach Scott Betson. “Some of that was them shooting the ball really well and some of that was us not doing some things defensively that we should have been doing.”
ACIT jumped out to a 6-2 lead, but later in the first quarter Mairone nailed a 3-pointer to put Mainland back in front, 12-10. The RedHawks (8-4) then went on a 6-0 run to regain the lead, and led 16-14 heading into the second quarter. But Mainland got the lead back and went into the locker room ahead, 25-20. Mainland then went on a 16-3 run to start the second half, highlighted by a Watson-to-Mairone-to-Dalzell bucket in transition and a three from Francesca Geromini that gave the Mustangs a 37-20 lead. Mairone finished with four 3-pointers and was a big reason why the Mustangs were able to keep the game close heading in the second quarter.
“Everyone on this team contributes. Everyone has their bad days, so when somebody steps up, you feel relieved,” Dalzell said. “Claudia is an amazing shooter. We just keep telling her to take shots.”
“They got into some foul trouble, and that was something that allowed us to put Kylee back out on the perimeter, which was really helpful. She’s a tough perimeter defender,” Betson said of the third-quarter run. “Matchup-wise, it helped us in terms of the way the foul calls went against their bigs.”
Montero and Sykes combined for 27 points, but the Mustangs — who have three players 6-feet tall or better — were simply too tough to match up with for four quarters.
Mainland has one of its toughest weeks of the regular season coming up, but the Mustangs say they aren’t feeling the pressure of being the only remaining undefeated team in the Cape-Atlantic League.
“I try to ignore it and go out and think about the next game, and every single time play my hardest,” Dalzell said.
Added Betson, “I don’t think that’s really a thing. We just talk about what’s next. I think we all understand that being undefeated doesn’t mean anything in terms of what we’re trying to do. That’s not really what our goal is. Being undefeated is great, but you can go undefeated in the regular season and lose in the first round of the playoffs, and nobody cares. We’re more focused on the bigger picture.”
Mainland 70, ACIT 45: On the boys side of the double-header, Mainland blitzed the RedHawks with a 22-6 third quarter to run away with a 25-point victory and improve to 7-6 overall. Point guard Joe Massari, who recently became eligible after sitting out the required 30 days after transferring from St. Augustine Prep, led all scorers with 18 points, and Duncan Scandin added 16. Gabe Fooks-Michnya chipped in with 13 for the Mustangs, who took a 34-25 lead into halftime. The RedHawks (4-9) were led by Abdur Nurridin, who finished with 13 points, and James Waugh, who added 11.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays