LINWOOD — Cadence Fitzgerald sank a fast-break layup and was fouled in the fourth quarter Friday night.
The Mainland Regional High School sophomore walked to the foul line with a big smile that seemed to say, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Fitzgerald scored a career-high 20 points to propel the Mustangs to a 66-44 win over Ocean City in a matchup of two of the Cape-Atlantic League’s biggest girls basketball rivals.
“It was so fun,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m still processing what just happened. I can’t believe I’m playing on Mainland varsity.”
Mainland also got a superb all-around game Kylee Watson, a McDonald’s All-American. The 6-foot-4 senior scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked five shots and had eight assists. Lila Schoen scored 14 for Mainland.
“One of my favorite things is passing the ball,” Watson said, “and just making those pretty cool passes. Cadence finished (shots) amazing today, and so did everyone else.”
Fans packed Mainland’s gym to watch these perennial powers play. Ocean City (16-6) had won 15 straight games and is ranked No. 7 in The Press Elite 11. Mainland (15-5) is ranked No. 10.
Ocean City beat Mainland 51-49 in Ocean City on Jan. 26.
“We did not have good energy the last time we played (Ocean City),” Watson said. “We were walking through screens. We weren’t setting any screens. We were just lethargic.”
The Mustangs played with energy from the start Friday.
“With the (Mainland) student section, there was a lot of energy in the gym,” Fitzgerald. “We kind of fed off each other.”
Watson handled the ball much of the game and was able to create shots for herself and her teammates.
Fitzgerald was a big beneficiary of Watson’s unselfishness. Several times, Watson found the 5-9 Fitzgerald cutting to the basket for layups.
“I got pass after pass,” Fitzgerald said. “I got great feeds from my teammates. We executed our (offensive) sets really well and everything we’ve been working on in practice recently.”
Ocean City stayed close early behind the perimeter of shooting of Abbey Fenton, who made six 3-pointers.
Mainland took control in the second quarter. Watson sank a driving layup to begin an 11-3 run that gave Mainland a 32-20 lead late in the second quarter. Senior guard Madi Hafetz sank back-to-back 3-pointers during that stretch.
Mainland staved off Ocean City’s mini-rally in the third quarter. A Fenton 3-pointer cut the Mainland lead to 40-34 with 1 minute, 25 seconds left in the period.
But Fitzgerald completed a conventional 3-point play with 13.2 seconds left in the quarter to push the Mustangs’ lead to 11. Their advantage never again dipped below double digits.
Mainland and Ocean City are now tied for the CAL National Division lead. Both teams will compete in the CAL Tournament, which starts Feb. 24. The South Jersey Group III playoffs will follow the CAL Tournament in March. Mainland is the top seed in that bracket, while Ocean City is the No. 2 seed.
Both teams already were thinking ahead after Friday’s contests.
“We know we’re probably going to see each other again,” Mainland coach Scott Betson said. “This (Friday’s win) is a nice confidence thing. They played a great game (in January), and we felt like we left some things out there. We wanted put it all out on the floor tonight.”
Ocean City 12 11 11 10 — 44
Mainland Regional 14 18 13 21 – 66
OC – Mirsky 3, Finnegan 3, Panico 5, Fenton 18, Brestle 3, Lappin 4, Jackson 3, Mazzetelli 5
ML – Watson 17, Hafetz 8, Schoen 14, Fitzgerald 20, Boggs 4, Haines 3