By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
LINWOOD —
The Ocean City girls basketball team may be undefeated and leading the Cape-Atlantic League’s American Conference, but the title is anything but a certainty with rival Mainland Regional hot on the Red Raiders’ heels.
The Mustangs kept pace with Ocean City on Tuesday night by grinding out a 35-22 victory over visiting Holy Spirit, staying within one game of the Red Raiders (17-0, 9-0).
It wasn’t a pretty win, but the Mustangs (13-5, 8-1) will take it. Both teams struggled offensively early on, as Holy Spirit led just 8-4 after the first quarter. Georgia Schoen nailed a 3-pointer early in the second quarter to pull Mainland to within 9-8, then gave the Mustangs a brief lead with a runner in the lane before Ariyanna Wilkes tied it at 11 with a driving layup. Mainland didn’t really get any solid separation until just before halftime, when Gabby Boggs drove the lane and scored at the buzzer to put Mainland up 17-12.
Freshman Kylee Watson came to life in the second half, scoring 11 of her game-high 16 points, and Boggs added 10 points. Schoen and Fran Geromini combined for eight more for the Mustangs.
“We actually ran good offense, we just missed layups and free throws in the first half. I think there was some progression. Gabby, this was her first game coming back from a concussion and I think that showed a little bit early. But then, in the second half, I think she felt more comfortable and started making some of the plays she’s used to making. Kylee struggled a little bit early but then made some huge plays for us,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson. “I think the difference in the game was Georgia Schoen stepped up for us. She hit the big 3-pointer and the runner in the lane. Those were enormous plays.”
“We came in knowing both teams wanted to win and we knew it was going to be a good game, a physical game, and overall a defensive game,” Watson said. “We prepared a lot on defense, working a lot on help defense and hedging the ball off the screens. I feel we improved a lot from the last time we played them on hedging and helping.”
Holy Spirit is one of the top scoring offenses in the CAL, averaging more than 48 points per game, but couldn’t get anything going offensively against Mainland. The Mustangs limited the Spartans (13-5, 6-3) to just two points in the third quarter while building a 28-14 lead. Holy Spirit cut the deficit to 32-22 with 1:36 left in the game, but a Wilkes bucket off a steal was the last points the Spartans could muster.
“It wasn’t so much about stopping one person,” Betson said of Mainland’s defensive approach. “We know they like to ball screen a lot, so we talked about being really aggressive hedging those ball screens. I don’t know if they’ve seen that look a lot and it made them uncomfortable.”
“We’ve had some problems with some slow starts and struggling offensively. We rush shots sometimes, but good defense leads to offense where you can get out and run, and that leads to more shots falling,” Watson said. “We’ve definitely improved since the beginning of the season. We’re making less mistakes and playing better defense. Overall, I feel like we’ve gotten closer and our chemistry has gotten better, too.”
Betson said he was glad his defense showed up on a night when the Mustangs weren’t all that productive on the offensive end.
“It was good to get a pretty comfortable win when it was all said and done — although it didn’t feel that comfortable — without playing great offense,” he said. “But that’s what playing great defense will do for you. As long as you take care of things on that end, you can win games like this when you struggle offensively.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays