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Mainland Proves to be South Jersey’s Top Group 3 Girls’ Basketball Team

Mainland Proves to be South Jersey’s Top Group 3 Girls’ Basketball Team
The South Jersey Group 3 girls’ basketball race the past few years has been a fascinating battle between Cape Atlantic League rivals Ocean City and Mainland.
 
While Ocean City had been the recent dominant team, Mainland made a major statement by winning this year’s South Jersey Group 3 title, ending Ocean City’s recent run.
 
The Mustangs beat Ocean City, 41-27 to win this year’s South Jersey Group 3 title. It was Mainland’s first sectional title since 1999.
 
And to unseat defeating champion Ocean City was some feat.
 
Consider that in 2016 top seeded Ocean City beat No. 3 seeded Toms River East, 37-29 in the SJ Group 3 title game. That season Mainland had yet to come of age. The Mustangs were the No. 5 seed, won an opening round game over Atlantic Tech, but lost to Winslow Township in the second round.
 
In 2017, top seeded Ocean City beat No. 2 Mainland, 38-31 in the South Jersey Group 3 championship.
 
Last season Ocean City beat Mainland, 36-32 in the championship.
 
And now this year Mainland got revenge.
 
Mainland was led by Kylee Watson, a 6-foot-3 junior who is among the top players in the state. She had 15 points in this low-scoring defensive struggle.
 
Right before the postseason, Mainland had to overcome adversity after losing to Middle Township, 34-25 in a semifinal game of the Cape Atlantic League tournament.
 
Watson missed that game due to an injury and her absence showed that there are few players who mean more to their team.
 
(Ocean City would win the Cape Atlantic League title, overcoming a 7-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Middle Township, 39-33).
 
What made this year’s South Jersey Group 3 title even more impressive is that Mainland had to defeat Ocean City three times this season.
 
On Dec. 21, Mainland edged Ocean City, 45-41. Visiting Ocean City made a late run, outscoring Mainland, 22-8 in the fourth quarter.
 
Camryn Dirkes led Mainland with 12 points, while Watson added 11 and Madison Hafetz scored 10.
 
On Jan. 27, Mainland won another tight game at Ocean City, 35-29.
 
With two close regular season games, the only mild surprise was that this year’s sectional final was decided by 14 points.
 
Mainland led just 21-18 at halftime, but outscored the Red Raiders, 20-9 in the second half.
 
In Watson’s three seasons the Mustangs have three South Jersey championship appearances and now their first championship.
 

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To Ocean City’s credit, the Red Raiders played Mainland toe to toe all three games. And to Mainland’s credit, to beat a team the caliber of Ocean City three times in a year, is quite an accomplishment as well.

After beating Westampton Tech, 49-33 in the state Group 3 semifinal, Mainland (27-3) will face Chatham (23-6) in Sunday’s noon state Group 3 championship game at the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River.


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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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