LINWOOD — The Mainland Regional High School girls basketball team started sluggishly Monday evening.
But Lila Schoen and the Mustangs made some adjustments.
Schoen made two crucial 3-point shots in the fourth quarter to lead the fourth-seeded Mustangs to a 42-36 victory over fifth-seeded Middle Township in a Cape-Atlantic League Tournament first-round game.
Schoen scored 12 points, all from 3-point range.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t shooting well at all,” said Schoen, 17, of Linwood. “But my teammates told me to keep shooting. I knew I had to take shots at the end and hope for the best.”
With 5 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in regulation, Schoen made a long-range shot to give Mainland a 28-25 lead.
With 1:29 left, the junior made another 3 to extend the lead to 35-29.
“(Mainland coach Scott) Betson said to run through the plays,” Schoen said. “But I saw myself wide open, and I had confidence in myself to take the shots. I thought they were going in when they left my hand.”
The Mustangs, ranked seventh in The Press Elite 11, improved to 17-5. The Panthers, ranked eighth, fell to 19-5.
Mainland will play top-seeded Wildwood Catholic in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday at Ocean City High School.
“We will just do what we do,” Betson said. “We will look at them on film. They will be a very difficult challenge for us. It’ll be exciting. It’ll be fun.”
Middle led 12-3 early in the second quarter. But Mainland went on a run to make the score 13-13 at halftime.
Mainland standout senior Kylee Watson, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, finished with 12 points.
“We weren’t really setting (up) screens and (Middle’s) pressure defense was a little overwhelming for us,” Watson said. “So I think playing our game and not letting their pace affect how we play was really influential to how we gained back that lead.”
The Panthers had a 25-23 fourth-quarter lead after Kira Sides made a 3-pointer. Sides and Kate Herlihy each finished with 15 points.
Sides and Herlihy both made two 3-pointers.
Middle and Mainland split two earlier meetings this season. The Panthers won 52-47 on Dec. 23 at the Shore at the Shore tournament. The Mustangs won 40-38 on Jan. 24.
Mainland sophomore Cadence Fitzgerald scored eight points Monday. Kaitlyn Boggs and Madison Hafetz each added five.
“We wanted to win,” said Watson, a McDonald’s All-American and an Oregon commit. “Simple as that. We did not want our CAL journey to end here.
“Middle is a great team and, obviously, we knew it would be a great game. We knew we really had to step up the energy.”
Watson fouled out with 1:27 remaining. But her teammates finished strong while she cheered them from the bench.
The 6-foot-4 Watson is a formidable presence on defense for Mainland.
“You always want to be playing,” Watson said. “But they handled it well. It shows a lot about our team. We are more than just one person. We are a team, and it takes all of us to win games.”
Sophia Terenik had four points for Middle. Maddie Barber added two.
The Panthers scored 14 fourth-quarter points.
“I told the girls in the locker room it was a good one for us because we didn’t play our best, particularly in the first half,” Betson said.
“We had adversity and still beat a very good team. No one is a bigger fan of Middle than I am. I’m proud of our girls.”
Middle 8 5 9 14—36
Mainland 3 10 10 19—42
MR — Watson 12, Schoen 12, Hafetz 5, Boggs 5, Fitzgerald 8
MT — Herlihy 15, Sides 15, Terenik 4, Barber 2.
3-pointers—Schoen (4), Hafetz MR; Sides (2), Herlihy (2) MT.
Records—MR 17-5; MT 19-5