GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Mainland Regional had St. Augustine Prep hugging the ropes after one quarter of play in Wednesday night’s Cape-Atlantic League Tournament semifinals, but it takes more than a few jabs and an uppercut to knock out a championship-caliber program like Prep.

The upstart Mustangs, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, rode the high of taking down rival Holy Spirit in Monday’s opening round and jumped out to a 17-9 lead after one quarter at Absegami High, but the Hermits roared back in the second quarter, ripping off a 22-0 run that turned a 19-11 deficit into a 33-19 lead. Mainland trailed, 33-20, heading into halftime, and never recovered. Prep, the No. 2 seed, rolled to a 65-41 victory and will meet top-seeded Wildwood Catholic, a 61-47 winner over No. 5 St. Joseph, on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Stockton University for the league championship.


Junior forward Matt Delaney started getting involved in the second quarter and finished the first half with 13 points, on his way to a game-high 19, and sophomore Elmarko Jackson added 16 for the Hermits, who improved to 21-4.

“The first quarter was definitely rough, we were missing puppies — we missed probably four foul shots — but were confident the whole time. After the first quarter, coach kind of said we missed some easy ones, so we knew we had to get the job done in the second quarter. We came out firing, came out hustling, playing crazy, playing basketball the way we know we can,” said senior point guard Kevin Foreman, who missed time earlier this month with a leg injury but has come back strong. “We talked and said, listen, we know what we can do. Let’s run up and down. We knew we could do things to them that they probably couldn’t stop with our height advantage. We fed the ball to Matty, he got going, and we kept feeding off him.”

Paint production: The key for the Hermits was getting the ball inside to guys like Delaney, Keith Palek and John Horner, as Mainland (19-7) was without star senior forward Jake Cook, who was lost for the season last week after suffering a torn MCL in his knee. The Mustangs were simply overmatched as Prep outscored Mainland 45-11 during the second and third quarters, and scored 32 points in the paint for the game.

Delaney said coach Paul Rodio told the team after the first quarter to pick up the pace and push the tempo to try to wear the Mustangs down, and that strategy worked.

“Coach did a great job of telling the team of what our game plan was. Through the first quarter we were a little shaky. (Mainland) did a great job of switching defenses and shaking us up, but by the second quarter (Rodio) made it real clear to the team what we needed to do,” Delaney explained. “He said we had to be Pleasantville. Against Pleasantville (in the opening round), we had to slow them down, but against this team we had to be (like) Pleasantville, speed it up and play inside. I think we did a great job in the second quarter, and the third, definitely playing inside and speeding up the game.”


Threes not falling: Without Cook, Mainland was forced to try to score from the outside. Normally a team strength, the Mustangs couldn’t get anything to fall in the second quarter, scoring just three points, and missed 3-pointers led to long rebounds and runout opportunities that the Hermits took full advantage of.

“That was definitely key, we had probably six (long rebounds) — I threw six right over to my teammates for easy layups,” Foreman said. “The long rebounds were coming right back to us, to the guards, and we just looked up and saw Johnny running, Marko was running a couple times, and we got wide-open layups.”

Mainland shot just 6-for-31 from long range for the game and got to the free-throw line just five times. Senior Ja’Quan Mace, who finished with a team-high 12 points, was the only Mustangs player to connect on more than one 3-pointer.

Redemption time: The Hermits are eager for another shot at Wildwood Catholic, a team that dismantled St. Augustine Prep 82-43 back on Jan. 22.

“We’re looking forward to it. We still remember what happened the last time we played Wildwood Catholic,” Foreman said. “We just want to compete out there and now we have a shot to win it. If you don’t get there, you don’t have a chance. We’ll be ready.”

Added Delaney, “my freshman year we didn’t make it, we lost that year to Wildwood Catholic, my sophomore year we made it and it ended with a bad outcome, but we’re right back here a year later. We’re going to come out, we’re going to be ready, we have a game plan, and I’m just hoping we make that next step and finish it off.”

Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said after his team’s win over St. Joseph that he’ll make sure his team will come into Saturday’s championship game very wary of the Hermits.

“We’re going to be playing against a very, very good team who I’m sure has a big chip on their shoulder about what happened down in North Wildwood,” he said. “So, we’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to really play our best. Whatever happened before doesn’t really matter, it’s all going to be about who comes to play on Saturday afternoon.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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