By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ATLANTIC CITY — An ideal game plan for the Mainland Regional High girls basketball team goes something like this — come out and get a nice lead, fend off the opponent’s one sustained run in the second half, let junior twins Ava and Bella Mazur do their thing creating off the dribble, have Sydney Stokes crash the boards to help get extra offensive possessions, and let junior point guard Kasey Bretones defend the other team’s top scorer like that girl stole her lunch money.
That’s pretty much how it played out on Wednesday night in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament semifinals at Atlantic City High, as the top-seeded and defending champion Mustangs beat Wildwood Catholic Academy, 46-30.
Mainland (22-2) jumped out to a 12-6 first-quarter lead and survived a third-quarter run by the Crusaders that cut a once 10-point lead down to four, and got 19 points, 13 rebounds and three assists from the Mazur twins. The win was the 16th straight for Mainland, which advances to take on No. 2 seed Atlantic City, a 50-37 winner over Middle Township in the other semifinal, in Saturday’s championship game (noon at Egg Harbor Township High.)
The Mustangs also got 11 points and nine rebounds from Stokes, who was matched up against Wildwood Catholic’s Ava Vogdes, one of the top forwards in the league.
“It was a very tough matchup for me,” said Stokes, a first-year varsity starter. “We came into this game knowing what we were up against, having played them two times before. I definitely came into this game with a strong mindset because I knew this was a very important game.”
Wildwood Catholic (21-5) was trailing 25-13 late in the second quarter but El McCabe kept the game from becoming a blowout, as she nailed two big 3-pointers in the final minute to help the Crusaders cut the deficit to 25-19 heading into halftime. The Crusaders got to within 27-23 when Destiny Wallace sank a jumper in the lane, but Mainland answered later in the third quarter when Bella Mazur scored inside and Bretones — who’s been fighting a stomach bug for more than a week — scored on a putback to give Mainland a 33-25 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“I haven’t played since Saturday, so it was really just the mentality. I knew my teammates had my back, and I knew if I were to play poorly they’d have my back. I just had to tough it out. This is a big one, we’re trying to win the CAL,” Bretones said. “Going into halftime they went on a run, so we knew we had to shut it down right away. We focused on getting stops first; we knew we were going to score on offense.”
“I’m really proud of her for pushing through. We really needed her and she really performed well today. She’s really tough. One of the toughest players in the league,” Stokes said.
Early in the fourth quarter, Bella Mazur scored off a steal and then Wildwood Catholic’s bench was hit with a technical foul. Bretones made both shots as the lead reached 39-25, and that quelled any thoughts of another Crusaders comeback.
Mainland got balanced scoring, as Bretones led the way with 12 points while Stokes added 11 and Ava Mazur finished with 10. McCabe led the Crusaders wit 13 while Kaci Mikulski added nine.
Both Bretones and Stokes said the Mustangs are confident they can defend their league title, but they certainly are wary of a team that has won 18 straight games.
“We haven’t seen (Atlantic City) since the second game of the season. It’s been a long time, but I think it will be a battle,” Bretones said. “They have Quanirah (Montague, a 6-foot-5 Mississippi State recruit), who is unstoppable, pretty much. We’ll just have to play our best game and work together.”
“Our confidence is pretty high because we made it this far, but it’s going to be a tough matchup,” Stokes said. “We have to be really prepared for that game.”
What’s Next: No. 1 Mainland Regional vs. No. 2 Atlantic City for the CAL championship at noon on Saturday at Egg Harbor Township High.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays