By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — To remain undefeated, a team has to be able to go on the road and win big games — even when they know exactly what their rival is going to do, and how difficult it will be.
Host Ocean City, trailing throughout the entire game, somehow managed to rally and tie rival Mainland, 35-35, to send the game into overtime on Wednesday night. The Mustangs, however, answered the challenge with a 7-2 run in the extra period to win, 42-37, and keep their record spotless at 15-0. The defending South Jersey Group 3 champions certainly gave Mainland its toughest test of the season so far, but fell into third place behind Holy Spirit in the tightly contested Cape-Atlantic League National Conference race.
“We knew that whenever we play Ocean City it’s going to be a fun game, and it definitely was exciting. It was definitely closer than we would have liked it to be. We played hard, but I think maybe being down in the first quarter pumped them up. We knew coming in it would be a great game,” said Mainland sophomore forward Kylee Watson. “It’s always going to be a tough game in this rivalry, and it’s nice to get a win over them. It’s going to be the same exact thing the next time we play them (on Feb. 3).”
Mainland (15-0, 6-0 CAL National) jumped out to a 13-3 lead heading into the second quarter as the Mustangs’ height on the inside and aggressiveness on the perimeter bothered Ocean City’s offense. But the Red Raiders (10-3, 4-2) slowly climbed back into it, cutting the deficit to 15-11 before Mainland went on a 7-2 run to close out the first half with a 22-13 lead. Ocean City turned up the pressure defense and forced turnovers in the second half, and got to within 34-30 when Danielle Donoghue found Savannah Holt for an inside basket. Donoghue followed that up with a bucket of her own to shave the lead to 34-32 with 3:45 left in regulation.
A free throw from Watson put Mainland up, 35-33, with 19 seconds left, but Mickey Baker came up with a huge inside basket with five seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. The teams traded baskets to start the extra period before Aly Nazarok gave the Mustangs the lead for good by scoring off an Ocean City turnover to make it 39-37.
“It was definitely a big game. I didn’t expect them to make that run (to get back into the game). In overtime, we knew they were going to foul, so we tried to set up plays to get the ball to our best foul shooters, and that ended up working out as we were able to hit some foul shots,” said Mainland senior guard Francesca Geromini, who finished with eight points. “Being undefeated — sometimes we’re up by a lot, so there’s that expectation that all our games should be like that, but there shouldn’t be that expectation. You could see from this game that when teams pack in (their defense) it’s hard to run offense, so we’re definitely trying to work on that.”
Nazarok led the way for the Stangs with 12 points and Watson had nine, with Geromini and Gabby Boggs each chipping in with eight. Baker and Molly Hoffman led the way for Ocean City with seven points each, while Donoghue finished with six.
“That’s what’s so great about our team, it’s not all about me. Everyone can make shots,” Watson said. “I just credit my whole team because they played great defense and we were able to finish.”
Mainland has a week off before Absegami will attempt to scuff up the Stangs’ perfect record, while Ocean City will try to end its first three-game losing streak in nearly a decade when it hosts Oakcrest on Friday night.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays