By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
DEPTFORD — By the time Mainland Regional girls basketball coach Scott Betson gets home tonight, he’s going to be an expert on all the bands and songs that 16-, 17- and 18-year-old girls love to listen to, especially if the bus ride from Deptford High School back to Linwood was anywhere near as raucous as the Mustangs’ locker room after they took down Westampton Tech, 49-33, on Wednesday night to reach their first state championship game since 1989.
The Mustangs are now just one win away from their first state title in team history. They hadn’t won a sectional title since 1999 before taking down rival Ocean City earlier this week, and back in ’99 they lost to Ewing in the group semifinals. Thirty years ago, Mainland lost in the state final to Pascack Valley. Mainland will take on Chatham, the North Jersey champion, on Sunday at Toms River North at a time to be determined.
“It feels awesome,” said Taylor Dalzell, one of four seniors along with Claudia Mairone, Jillian Gatley and Lauren Toner. “It’s so different from anything I’ve ever felt in soccer or basketball. It’s awesome. We’re always training, but it’s well worth it.”

Senior guard Taylor Dalzell dribbles between two defenders during Mainland’s 49-33 win over Westampton Tech in the Group 3 semifinals at Deptford High School. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“We’ve been waiting for this. The days have been long, it’s been a long season, but we’ve been waiting for this for awhile,” Gatley added.
Neither Mainland (27-3) nor Westampton Tech (20-8), the Central Jersey Group 3 champion, could get on track offensively in the first half, but that was mostly because both teams are so good defensively. Kylee Watson and Katelyn Boggs didn’t allow many good looks inside for the Panthers, but Westampton Tech returned the favor by countering with Clara Brannon and Lillian Gyamfi, who gave the Mustangs all kinds of problems, particularly early in the second half when the Panthers shaved a 24-18 halftime deficit down to 24-23 thanks to five straight points from Gyamfi.
But then Mairone — as she has done throughout her career — stepped up in a big spot and nailed two 3-pointers in the span of less than two minutes to push Mainland’s lead to 30-23, and from there it was an uphill battle for the Panthers.
“That’s what Claudia has done since she got here and that’s why she’s the most accomplished 3-point shooter in school history. She’s just a super kid and I’m so happy for her,” Betson said. “This type of thing is a long time in the process, and ‘process’ has been our mantra all year long and something we’ve talked about. The idea of where we are now is a credit to all the kids who took the time to help build this up, little by little, as we go. Obviously, Kylee is a difference maker in any program, and the other kids have really bought into the things we’ve wanted them to do. When they work that hard, they really buy into what they can accomplish.”
“We came and practiced here yesterday, and in the second half the shots were going. I was getting open looks because they were concentrating on Kylee, so I knew I had to make them,” said Mairone. “We knew we had to rebound better, we had to double down on their bigs. They had some very good players down low who were very strong, but we knew if we took care of (rebounding) and limited turnovers we would have a good outcome.”
Betson had to do a lot of maneuvering in the second half as Watson, Dalzell and freshman point guard Camryn Dirkes all ran into serious foul trouble. But Watson scored with 1:31 left in the third and Mairone nailed another 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in the quarter to give the Mustangs a 10-point lead, 37-27. In the fourth quarter, Betson turned to players such as Gatley, Toner and Madi Hafetz to help the Mustangs keep the lead while the other players were in foul trouble.

Freshman point guard Camryn Dirkes drives to the hoop during the second half of Mainland’s win. The Mustangs will be looking for their first state championship in program history when they take on Chatham on Sunday at Toms River North. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


“These kids do an outstanding job of taking pressure off me. Tonight, offensively, it wasn’t about anything we did as a coaching staff, our kids just stepped up and made plays, pretty much top-to-bottom,” Betson said. “We feel pretty good, especially defensively, going to our bench, so I felt pretty confident that we were going to be able to go a little bit of offense/defense (switches), and I thought we did a good job of mixing up the man and the zone. That kept them out of sorts a little bit and also allowed us to fight through some foul trouble.”
“We knew they were athletic, fast and big. In the first half we talked about some things we were doing wrong and we adjusted to that in the second half,” Mairone said. “Our 3-2 zone was very effective on them. When we first started running it we had some gaps, but we fixed that and I thought it gave them a lot of trouble.”
“We had to change it up a little bit from what we were originally planning in practice yesterday. Those shots are always so important, those are the ones that count,” added Dalzell, referring to Mairone’s two huge threes in the second half.
Mairone led the way with 14 points, including hitting four of Mainland’s six 3-pointers, Dirkes added 11 points and Watson finished with nine. Gyamfi tallied 13 points to lead the Panthers.
Mainland was the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament, and the odds-on favorite to win the section, and now the Mustangs have an opportunity to make history on Sunday at RWJBarnabas Health Arena.
“This is amazing, especially being a senior. Every round is tough, and it’s just so exciting,” Mairone said. “We’ve been playing together since third grade, and to have this senior year is just great. There will be a lot of singing (on the ride home). Me, the other seniors, and everyone else, we just don’t want our season to end so we just keep playing for that. We just want to keep playing as long as possible.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays