DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP — The Mainland Regional High School girls basketball team is one victory away from the first state championship in program history.
The Mustangs earned a berth to the Group III final Wednesday with a 49-33 win over Westampton Tech in the semifinals at Deptford Township High School.
Mainland will play Chatham for the state title Sunday at RWJBarnabas Heath Arena at Toms River North High School.
“It’s just an awesome feeling, especially being a senior,” Mainland guard Claudia Mairone said. “I get to experience it with people I’ve been playing with since the third grade. It’s amazing.”
Mainland (27-3), No. 4 in The Press Elite 11, used its outside shooting to pull away from Westampton Tech (20-8). The Mustangs hit six 3-pointers, including four from Mairone.
Westampton Tech double-teamed Mustangs junior standout Kylee Watson on almost every possession. But while Watson was held to nine points, she did a terrific job feeding her teammates for open looks.
“That set things up for the rest of the crew, and they came through,” Mustangs coach Scott Betson said. “It was a total team effort tonight.”
Whenever the Panthers tried to mount a rally, Mairone cut their comeback short with a timely basket from behind the arc.
The Panthers used a 5-0 run to cut Mainland’s lead to 24-23 early in the third quarter. Mairone responded with back-to-back 3s during an 8-0 surge by the Mustangs that boosted their lead to 32-27. She then closed the quarter with another 3-pointer that put them ahead 37-22 and essentially clinched the game.
Mairone, who holds the school’s career, season and single-game records for 3-pointers, led the team with 14 points. Camryn Dirks added 10.
“Once the first 3-pointer went in, my confidence started to go up,” Mairone said. “I was so excited, so pumped up.”
The Mustangs were making their first appearance in a state semifinal since 1999, when they lost to Ewing 56-39. Sunday’s championship game will be their first in 30 years, when they lost to Pascack Valley.
“We’re very excited to have this opportunity,” Betson said. “I just want us to play loose and have fun. Our motto all year has been to stick to the process but to enjoy the process, and that’s what we’re going to do Sunday.”
Mainland 11 13 13 12—49
Westampton Tech 7 11 9 6—33
M—Watson 9, Boggs 4, Dirkes 10, Mairone 14, Dalzell 3, Hafetz 7, Schoen 2.
WT—Purrell 6, Gyomfi 11, Brannon 4, Washington 2, Price 3, Briggs 3.
3-pointers—Mairone (4), Dalzell, Hafetz M. Price, Briggs WT.