By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — If they Mainland Regional girls basketball players were tired from having to follow up Friday night’s season opener against Wildwood Catholic with a 1:45 p.m. game against Southern Regional on Saturday in the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend showcase, they didn’t show it.
The Mustangs built a 14-9 first-quarter lead over the Rams, then blitzed Southern with 21 points in the second quarter to cruise to a 58-43 victory. The win was the first of the season for Mainland, which lost by four points to Wildwood Catholic on Friday night.
“Obviously, it feels good to win. The nice thing about a back-to-back is, when you have a tough one the night before you get to get right back at it. We just wanted to make sure there wasn’t any hangover from last night into tonight. Although we’re very young in some spots, I thought they were really mature in moving past (Friday night’s loss), and that’s a good sign,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson. “I think we learned a lot from the first game in terms of what we need to work on. (Wildwood Catholic) did a really nice job of exposing some of the things we’ve been struggling with. We didn’t shoot the ball well early but started shooting it better in the second half. When we can hit shots like that, it makes it tougher to defend us.”
Highly touted 6-foot-3 freshman Kylee Watson is living up to the hype so far. In her first two games she has scored 36 points, and along with 6-foot junior Gabby Boggs the Mustangs have one of the most formidable front lines in South Jersey. But both struggled with foul trouble during the season-opening loss to Wildwood Catholic, and some of the younger guards had some costly turnovers in that game.
“Last night was a tough game. We struggled with some fouls. I didn’t play for much of the first half and Kylee had to come out,” Boggs said. “We struggled last night, so it was nice to be able to come back out and play again today.”
“A couple of decisions by some of our young guards hurt is in that first game, but we just need to be put in more positions like that so we can figure out what to do,” Betson said. “Typically, I’m not wild about back-to-back games, but when you have a game like that and get to come back the next day (and win), we get to feel good about it now.”
Southern Regional didn’t have much of an answer for Watson and Boggs in the paint. Watson hit 12-of-21 from the field to lead all scorers with 24 points, while Boggs added four points, seven rebounds, five assists, five blocks and five steals. Junior point guard Georgia Schoen chipped in with 11 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore guard Claudia Mairone hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with eight points.
“I thought we did a nice job entering the ball (into the paint). It was all keyed by our transition. We got to push the ball early and I thought that wore them down. They picked up some fouls on some of their key players and that really opened things up for us, both in transition and in the half court,” Betson said. “That’s something we’ve been talking about since last summer, really, is getting the ball out in transition. Last night, we had a couple of bad bounces that took away our transition early, and that hurts us. It limited us a little bit last night, but we’re going to grow from that first game. Hopefully we’re on the right trajectory.”
“It’s not always about scoring points. Kylee is in there and she’s big, so I’m not the biggest one anymore. Defense is important because that leads to offense,” Boggs added. “We have some good bigs, so for the guards to be able to shoot and Georgia attacking, that’s going to be really helpful.”
Betson said he knows there will be plenty of pressure on Watson and Boggs to produce in the paint this season, but part of their success relies on the guards getting the ball in to them, and that’s what the Mustangs were able to do against the Rams on Saturday.
“A lot of that is just her hard work and being a great finisher, but a lot of it came from the guards doing a nice job getting the ball up the court, which threw them out of some of the defensive matchups they would have liked to have had, and that freed her up for some easy looks,” Betson said.
“We’re really young, so we’re still working together to learn how each other plays. I think we need to work on shooting foul shots and stuff like that,” Boggs added. “Our defense is coming along. We played much better defense today. We just have to work better as a whole team, and that’s definitely something we’re going to keep working on.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN