Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — Experienced basketball teams know how to close out a win. And the Mainland Regional Mustangs have plenty of experience, especially where it counts most — with the players who handle the basketball in the final few minutes of a game.

The Mustangs didn’t attempt a field goal in the final five minutes of their 40-28 win over Atlantic City at the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend event on Saturday night, because they didn’t have to. Junior guards Ava Mazur and Kasey Bretones went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line to turn a seven-point lead with five minutes to go into a comfortable 12-point win.

It was an interesting early season matchup in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week that featured Mainland, a team that went to the Group 3 state championship game a year ago and returned three starters, and Atlantic City, a squad that featured 6-foot-5 forward Quanirah Montague, who last month committed to play for Mississippi State University. Montague finished with a game-high 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and two blocked shots, but Mainland’s three guards — Bretones, Ava Mazur and twin sister Bella Mazur — combined for 36 points, 13 rebounds and 10 steals.

Sasha Lemons had a solid game for Atlantic City, scoring 10 points and adding a couple of rebounds and a steal. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“We knew we had to stop her,” Bella Mazur said of Montague. “We held her to about 16 points, but we only let three people score from Atlantic City and we were very comfortable with letting them do that.”

Defense was the key for Mainland, as the Mustangs forced 18 turnovers by the Vikings and converted them into 21 points. The Vikings didn’t hold the lead at any point during the game. Mainland committed 17 turnovers against the Vikings’ press but Atlantic City was only able to turn those miscues into two points.

“Every year we know Atlantic City has one of the best pressure defenses in the Cape-Atlantic League and we know even though we have three dynamic guards it’s going to be a tough matchup because there’s 6-foot-5 Quanirah Montague on Atlantic City. She makes things a little hard for us, but having Kasey Bretones stay with her the whole game was amazing for us. She’s not nearly as tall as (Montague) but she pulled through. That was definitely big for us,” Ava Mazur said.

Added Bella Mazur, “she’s definitely a tough matchup. We knew we had to out-rebound them and box out as soon as a shot went up. Obviously, there is a 6-foot-5 girl jumping in, so we knew we had to box out and beat them on rebounding.”

Mainland guard Bella Mazur tries to get around the defense of Atlantic City’s Taison Parker. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Mainland (2-0, 1-0 Cape-Atlantic League National) jumped out to a 15-4 lead in the first quarter, but Atlantic City (1-1, 1-0 CAL American) got a spark from Sasha Lemons, who nailed a 3-pointer at the first-quarter horn to pull the Vikings within 15-7. That seemed to spark the Vikings, and they shaved the deficit to 19-14 by halftime and trailed by just two, 22-20, early in the third after four straight points from Montague. But just as quickly, the Mustangs closed out the third quarter on a 6-0 run — including a driving layup with 1.5 seconds left by Bretones — and Atlantic City never recovered.  

“With a big crowd like this, nerves get to you, and that’s normal, but I know if we can hold our composure we can come out with a win,” Ava Mazur said. “This is a really big confidence booster for us going into the early part of this year. Atlantic City is going to win a lot of games, so power points go right to us. It’s definitely a big win.”

“We knew we had to calm down in the fourth quarter. We didn’t want to rush shots. We were able to relax a little bit when we got a nine-point lead,” Bella Mazur said. “We just wanted to get some easy free throws to end the game. We’re more of a high-scoring game so it was weird looking up at the scoreboard (in the second half) and seeing 25 points for both teams, that was weird. But, it was a good win.”

What’s Next: Mainland travels to Absegami on Monday at 5:30 p.m. Atlantic City hosts Williamstown on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays