Staff Writer
The Mainland Regional girls basketball team wanted some payback, and the Mustangs were determined to get it. And ruin not only a perfect record for Ocean City, but also the Red Raiders’ Senior Night.
On Jan. 25, Ocean City nipped Mainland, 29-27, and came into Thursday night’s matchup with a sparkling 21-0 record. But with all its pieces in place, Mainland was too strong in the second half, opening up a 28-20 lead after three quarters and going 8-for-11 from the foul line down the stretch to seal a 38-25 victory.
With the win, the Mustangs improved to 17-5 overall, and tied the Red Raiders (21-1, 11-1) atop the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference standings. Ocean City was without head coach Paul Baruffi, whose mother fell ill prior to the game. Assistant coach Mike Cappelletti took over the coaching duties.
In the previous matchup, Mainland was without starting point guard Georgia Schoen due to illness, and starting forward Gabby Boggs went down halfway through the game with a concussion. But with its full lineup in, Mainland grabbed the lead early in the second quarter and never let it go.
Freshman Kylee Watson — who led all scorers with 14 points — nailed a 3-pointer to give the Mustangs a 12-8 lead early in the second quarter, then she scored on a baseline drive a few minutes later to push the lead to 16-10. Fran Geromini, who had to sit out the first 30 days of the season after transferring from Holy Spirit, drained a jumper after getting a steal with a minute left to make it 18-11, and Gabby Boggs hit a runner off a back-door pass from Aly Nazarok at the buzzer to push the lead to 20-11 going into halftime.
“We had to play with our heads up. Last game, I didn’t really play that well, but this game we had a lot of energy and a positive attitude. This game, instead of everybody rebounding we kept one person back, and that was me, so we were able to get points off the fast break,” Geromini said. “This is a huge win. This helps us for the CAL playoffs and gives us a lot of energy going forward.”
“It’s definitely a great feeling. Last time, we didn’t have our full team. We were without Georgia and I was only able to play half the game, so we knew that was a factor,” Boggs said. “We just wanted to come out, have confidence and believe in ourselves. Sometimes there are excuses you can make, but we just wanted to come in here and, right off the bat, play really hard and be focused on defense.”
Watson, despite being a 6-foot-3 forward, spent much of the night guarding Ocean City’s dynamic senior point guard, Grace Sacco. She helped limit Sacco to nine points and, more importantly, closed off driving lanes in the paint.
“She has the length and can deter shots, too,” Boggs said of the Watson-Sacco matchup. “She just tried to keep her in front. I think it was a good move because she was able to deter her shot.”
“We kind of had to last time. Originally, we were going to have Georgia guard her, but Georgia was sick, so Kylee ended up guarding her a lot,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson. “Last time, the issue wasn’t defense. We played good defense, we just didn’t score enough. I think we got going in transition early, and I think Fran’s points were enormous. They came in huge spots and helped us keep the lead.”
Ocean City trimmed the lead to 22-20 in the third quarter on 3-pointers by Sacco and Alexis Paone, as well as a jumper by Sacco, but Mainland answered right back with buckets by Watson and Geromini. Watson scored again down low at the buzzer to push the lead to 28-20.
Geromini is beginning to play the way she did last year, when she established herself as an up-and-coming guard in the CAL as a sophomore at Holy Spirit.
“(Sitting out) for the first 30 days, that was tough, but now I’m getting into the mix. (Kylee and I) are a good duo,” she said.
“We knew exactly what she was capable of when she came here, but with anybody, it just takes a little time to get your legs under you. Hopefully, we’re past that point now,” Betson added.
The win was big in that it proved the Mustangs could go on the road and beat a top-notch opponent, something they likely will have to do to win either a CAL or sectional title.
“This means a lot. They are an amazing team. They came in undefeated,” Boggs said. “Knowing we came out with a win will definitely help us in the playoffs. I’m sure we’ll meet them again, so this gives us a lot more confidence that we can hang with the best teams and come out with a win.”
“It’s a mental thing, but it’s a mental thing because they do such an outstanding job. It’s a big game for us because they make it a big game by being as successful as they are,” Betson said. “We just needed to be able to convince ourselves that we could win a game like this. We’ve been in tight games and haven’t come out with the win, so this was a big one.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays