By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
LINWOOD — There’s something special about this year’s Mainland Regional boys basketball team. The Mustangs don’t grab a lot of headlines and they may not even have a player on the All-Cape-Atlantic League first team, but they are unselfish with the basketball, play tough defense, and all season long have been finding ways to win games.
The third-seeded Mustangs did it again on Saturday night, fighting back from an early deficit to take down No. 10 Seneca, 58-51, to punch their ticket to the South Jersey Group 3 championship game against No. 1 Moorestown on Tuesday night.
Seneca (12-16) jumped out to an early 9-4 lead and led 14-8 after the first quarter, and the Golden Eagles were getting solid contributions from Johnny Kennevan and Malin Jasinksi, who combined for 31 of Seneca’s 51 points.

Angelo Barron led Mainland with 16 points as the Mustangs took down Seneca to reach the South Jersey Group 3 championship. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“This game was stressful. There were a couple shots that we often knock down, a couple layups and threes that were open that we didn’t hit. I thought a big key early when they got up seven points early was they were hitting the board, they were just kicking our butts on the boards and got a bunch of second-chance points. It was either they were putting it back at the rim or there was defensive chaos and they were kicking it back out to Kennevan or Jasinski for open looks, and that was hurting us,” said Mainland coach Dan Williams. “But once we settled down and got the nerves out, we backed off of any type of scheme we had and just said, ‘go play man-to-man. Let’s keep it real simple. Just go make plays on the offensive end and play man-to-man on defense.’ There’s that fine line of when does a game get away from you? But luckily we made just enough baskets where I didn’t have to start thinking too extreme.
“(Kennevan and Jasinski) refused to let their team be out of it (late), just like we were on the verge of being out of it early, they were on the verge late but those two wouldn’t allow it.”
“The first half was definitely tough because our shots weren’t falling and they were getting out on the break and got the best of us,” said Angelo Barron, one of three seniors in Mainland’s starting lineup. “We came out in the second half and said, ‘this is going to be our half,’ and we took over. We were down seven early but came back in the second quarter to tie it, and in the second half it all started with our defense.”
Mainland (21-7) eventually battled back and took a 19-18 lead late in the second quarter on a pair of free throws from Barron, and carried a 21-20 lead into halftime.
Jasinski drained a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and pull Seneca to within one, 32-31, but then Mainland began to create offense with its defensive pressure. Joe Massari found Barron, then made a steal and fed Jake Cook as the Mustangs pulled ahead 38-32. Cook then grabbed a rebound and tossed an outlet pace to junior guard JaQuan Mace, who converted a traditional three-point play that pushed the lead to 41-32 and electrified the Mainland student section in the crowd.
“His defense is insane. And then that ‘and-1’ he had just erupted this place. That might have been the loudest I’ve heard this place in a while,” Barron said.

Mainland senior guard Joe Massari lays in a shot against two Seneca defenders during the Mustangs’ 58-51 win over the Golden Eagles. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“I just felt like I had to contribute on defense and cause turnovers, and that led to some fast breaks. (My offense) just came in the flow of the game, and from the intensity of the crowd,” said Mace, who paired his defense with nine points on the offensive end. “We came out a little bit nervous, but once we got our feet under us we were good. We just have to come out with the same intensity (on Tuesday). We believed in our hearts and minds that we could get this win. We all contribute to this team with our heart and toughness, and the coaches come up with a good game plan.”
Williams said Mace’s play in the second half made all the difference, as he continued to come up with big steals and foul shots.
“Joe was very solid early, and JaQuan Mace had an unbelievable second half and changed the game with his defense and his finishes. He was huge,” Williams said. “A couple of the steals he had and finishing at the rim. I was really happy for JaQuan because he’s probably the guy who gets the least attention and publicity. We don’t win that game without him, that team is too well coached and too smart.”
Still, Seneca refused to go away, cutting the lead down to 51-45 on a three from Kennevan and later pulling to within 54-51 on a putback by Nate Roseboro. That bucket came on the heels of Mainland missing 5-of-6 from the free-throw line, but eventually the Mustangs were able to salt the game away in the final 45 seconds.
Playing for a sectional championship will be the highlight of the careers for this group of seniors, who at one point this season had an 11-game winning streak and went on to finish second in the Cape-Atlantic League’s National Conference.
“That’s the best part of it. There’s only been one team (in Mainland history) to have more wins, and aside from a few years ago it had been forever since we’d been to the South Jersey semis,” Williams said. “These guys believe in themselves a ton, even if people in the stands for the outside world don’t. They have a lot of confidence. They’ve been playing together for a long time, even though it may not have been in Mainland uniforms on the varsity level, they’ve grown up with each other and they play for each other. I’m very happy for them. I couldn’t be any happier for or more proud of these seniors because they don’t get a lot of attention, but it doesn’t seem to bother them, they just keep plugging away.”
Added Barron, who led the Stangs with 16 points, “It’s the best feeling proving people wrong, especially my senior year. Our coaches always tell us ‘one possession at a time’ and we’re still going. I was worried in the beginning the season because we lost to Millville and Eastern, but then we went to Southern, and we’ve been rolling ever since. Our student section, all the parents, the whole community has been coming together for us, and it’s been awesome.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays