By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher LINWOOD — Mainland Regional senior forward Megan Stafford would have preferred to score her 1,000th career point on a nice, easy layup. Instead, she stood at the free-throw line midway through the first quarter of Friday night’s game against Atlantic City sitting on 999 points. No pressure. Just the entire home crowd waiting to erupt and litter the gymnasium floor with green streamers. Stafford calmly drained the free throw to finish off a 3-point play the old-fashioned way. Those three points started a 15-0 run that helped wipe out an early 3-2 deficit, and Mainland held off a late Vikings rally to escape with a 38-33 win that helped seal the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title for Holy Spirit. “I wanted to get exactly 1,000 points, so, honestly, it was a dream come true. I’ve been struggling with my foul shots, so to make it on a foul shot means the world. I was just thinking, OK, I have to do it now,” Stafford said. “The team came out on fire from the start, whether they wanted it for me and Mel (on senior night), they were just one fire. To come out and have a lead early and to hold them to just three points in the first quarter felt really good.” Fans toss streamers onto the court after Mainland Regional senior forward Megan Stafford scores her 1,000th career point on Friday night during the Mustangs' win over Atlantic City. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Fans toss streamers onto the court after Mainland Regional senior forward Megan Stafford scores her 1,000th career point on Friday night during the Mustangs’ win over Atlantic City. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “It was great. She needed three, and she got it all in one possession, so that was great. Loose ball, getting herself to the rim, and one. That was very typical of her career,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson. “She was here when Alex (Raring) scored her 1,000th point. Megan was a freshman, and that night everybody was saying, ‘Megan, you’re next.’ It was nice of everyone to say that, but she’s been working and working for four years. She had a concussion a few weeks ago and that set her back a little bit. I think she thought she would have had it by now, but it’s great for her. She works really hard, and it’s probably a little bit liberating for her now that she’s gotten it.” Once the 1,000-point celebration was out of the way, Mainland got to work on winning the game for its two seniors, Stafford and Melanie Malcolm, as well as to gain some momentum heading into the CAL Tournament next week. Atlantic City, Holy Spirit and Mainland spent the majority of the season battling for the CAL American title, and garnered the Nos. 3, 4 and five seeds, respectively, in the league tournament that begins on Monday. Malcolm scored on a layup and Georgia Schoen hit two free throws as the Mustangs (17-5, 9-3) used a 13-0 run to lead 15-3 at the end of the first quarter. But Atlantic City (17-5, 9-3) chipped away on the strength of senior star Alyvia Essex, and trailed just 20-15 at halftime. Lajerah Wright scored on a breakaway late in the third quarter to shave Mainland’s lead down to 25-24, but each time the Vikings got close, Mainland made a play to extend its lead. Following that bucket by Wright, Stafford answered on the other end with an inside basket to make it 27-24. Another inside basket by Stafford early in the fourth gave the Mustangs a 30-24 lead, but again Atlantic City made a comeback, slicing the lead to 34-32 on a putback by Janerah Glaze. But Mainland connected on 4-of-4 free throws in the final 41 seconds to seal the win. “Early on, I thought we were going to be scoring in bunches, but then all of a sudden they went on a 12-1 run and I was getting a little nervous,” Betson said. “Both teams settled in defensively. They do such a good job defensively, and they make you make bad decisions and that was hurting us at times. But we made enough plays down the stretch.” Atlantic City's Syria Bass tries to get around Mainland's Melanie Malcolm during the first half on Friday night. Atlantic City’s Syria Bass tries to get around Mainland’s Melanie Malcolm during the first half on Friday night. Betson admitted the entire team was thinking about getting Stafford her 1,000th career point, and he said he reminded them in the locker room prior to the game that the Mustangs, more importantly, needed to get some momentum heading into the postseason tournaments. Mainland drew the No. 5 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament and will face No. 12 ACIT on Feb. 29 in the opening round. “We talked about it a lot, how that was a reason for us to be energetic, but we also talked about how important it was to find a way to win this game. I’m most happy about winning the game, but obviously I’m happy for the seniors,” Betson said. “Our starting five played the entire second half, and they played incredibly tough the whole second half. Georgia played Essex the entire game. We ask her to do so much, especially because Taylor Dalzell is out with a concussion. Not having our secondary ball handler makes it even tougher.” “This win is going to carry us through the CAL tournament and through the playoffs,” Stafford said. “That’s the kind of fire we have to come out with every game from now on, so it felt good to finish this game.” Stafford and Malcolm combined to score 19 of Mainland’s 38 points, and Schoen finished with eight. Essex led the Vikings, who drew the No. 2 seed in the upcoming South Jersey Group 4 tournament, with 21 points while Wright finished with six. Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]