By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Mainland Regional girls basketball coach Scott Betson knew his Mustangs weren’t going to be able to stop Paul VI junior guard Hannah Hidalgo, who came into Tuesday night’s game averaging nearly 28 points per game and has more than 1,200 points in her career already. She’s going to get her points no matter what kind of defense you throw at her.
The key is stopping the other four players on the court.
Turns out, that, too, is a lot easier said than done.
Hidalgo filled up the stat sheet once again, scoring 26 points and adding six rebounds, five assists and eight steals to lead the Eagles to a dominating 64-39 win over Mainland, just the second loss of the season for the Mustangs, who fell to 17-2. But it was the contributions of other players — namely Sara McShea (11 points, six rebounds), Shariah Baynes (five assists), and Eva Andrews and Mikayla Young (combined 12 points and nine rebounds) — that overwhelmed the Mustangs.
“That was the takeaway — Hannah is outstanding, obviously, but we couldn’t find another kid to help off of throughout that entire game,” Betson said. “They are so complete and they defend their rear ends off, and every kid made shot after shot. What are you going to do?”
McShea nailed a 3-pointer midway through the first quarter to give Paul VI a 7-4 lead, and from there it was like the Eagles (16-3, 7-0 Olympic National) turned on the afterburners. Hidalgo found Andrews in transition and then Andrews nailed a three to push the lead to 14-6. Hidalgo then hit a short jumper, followed with a steal and converted a traditional three-point play, and all of a sudden it was 19-6 and the Mustangs were reeling. On the Eagles’ next possession, Hidalgo did her best Allen Iverson impersonation with a crossover move and finished with a teardrop floater along the baseline to push the lead out to 21-6.
“I thought that we dug ourselves a hole in the first quarter, but I thought we battled after that. I think we lost the rest of the game by about eight points, something like that,” Betson said. “There were some things we could have done differently, but credit to Paul VI — every one of their kids just made play after play after play.”
“I think we played great. We didn’t want to lose two games in a row,” said Hidalgo, whose team lost to state power Manasquan over the weekend. “We came out here and everybody had a phenomenal game on defense, our shots were falling. We just came out and played hard.
“It feels great to get points, but when I’m able to get the ball to my teammates and they are able to make shots, it gives everyone so much confidence when the shots are falling and everyone is playing well. Everybody was just doing their thing today.”
“We had to bounce back from our loss to Manasquan,” said Eagles coach Orlando Hidalgo, Hannah’s father. “We knew this team was a tough team. They lost to Manasquan by two points and that’s the only loss they’ve had all year, so we knew they were a good team. We just had to make up for our last loss. We were anxious to get back on the floor and this was good for us.”
Hidalgo’s play throughout the game was simply jaw-dropping. She scored nine points in the first quarter and added 11 in the third quarter as the Eagles extended their lead out to 50-31. Defensively, she led an effort that resulted in 11 steals by Paul VI.
“She’s played point guard all her life, and one of the things I’ve always taught her is that when she plays she has to make everyone around her better. A good point guard makes a team better, and she’s learned that,” coach Hidalgo said of his daughter. “She’s played more off the ball this year because we’ve needed her scoring — she could always score, but now we’re teaching our other young point guard, Shariah, who is a sophomore, to play that role and understand what she’s going to need to do. But yes, playing point guard all her life has helped (Hannah) make everyone else better.
“We normally can hit shots,” he added. In the Manasquan game we just completely struggled. Hannah had 18 points but then it was like nine, eight, and nobody else. Today, everything was clicking, and it all starts with our defense. Our defense started out well and that got everybody loose and ready to play.”
“We take pride in our defense,” Hannah Hidalgo said. “Last game, we were kind of slacking in our defense and my dad said that everything starts with defense. We came out here, we got blocked shots, we got steals. Everyone played great on defense.”
Mainland (17-2, 8-0 Cape-Atlantic League American), which saw its 10-game winning streak come to an end, got 10 points each from Kasey Bretones and Ava Mazur, and six points from senior guard Camryn Dirkes. The Stangs, ranked No. 16 in the state by nj.com, return to action on Friday with another tough game, at Atlantic City.
“We just appreciate getting matchups. We’ve had a hard time finding teams looking to play, so I appreciate that they were willing to come down here. We were just outclassed tonight in terms of how they played,” Betson said. “We’ll take it and we’ll grow from it. I thought Kasey Bretones grew up quite a bit tonight. She became an attacker in the way I haven’t seen her all year, so there will be some positives from this game, for sure. But we just have to own this one. I thought we could have played better, but we were just outclassed tonight.”
Paul VI, ranked No. 9 in the state, have some tough games coming up that should get the Eagles ready for the state playoffs.
“We try to learn from each win, and from each loss. We watch a lot of film. We watch what we did well and where we made our mistakes, and we try to improve on them,” coach Hidalgo said. “Our whole goal is to get it to where we need it. A lot of our games coming up are going to be very tough, we have Blair Academy, Shawnee and Woodbury. So, we have a couple good teams coming up and we’re trying to get it together for the playoffs.”
Added Hannah Hidalgo, “this gives us confidence. We still have some tough teams to play, so whenever we play well, like this, it gives everyone confidence that we can compete and do what we need to do.”
What’s next: Paul VI hosts Bishop Eustace on Thursday at 7 p.m. Mainland travels to Atlantic City on Friday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays