LINWOOD — The Mainland Regional boys basketball team would have preferred the pace of Saturday evening's South Jersey Group 3 semifinals to be a waltz. It was more like an Irish Riverdance.

Winslow's up-tempo style was more than the host Mustangs could handle, as the eighth-seeded Eagles blitzed No. 4 Mainland with a barrage of 3-pointers in the first half and suffocating defense in the second to score a 70-52 victory and advance to the championship game for a third straight season. The Eagles actually will host the game, as No. 10 Timber Creek upset sixth-seeded Triton in the other semifinal.

Mainland (20-5) trailed by 14 points at halftime, 39-25, but turned up the intensity on defense in the third quarter and shaved the lead down to six points with 3:23 remaining. Just as quickly, Winslow (16-12) went on a 12-0 run to push its lead to 57-39. A 3-pointer by Brandon Savitch and a spin move and drive to the hoop by Sahmir Jones got the Mustangs within 59-46, but the Eagles were simply too much to handle down the stretch.

"We thought, maybe, there was a little bit left in the tank. But they came back and countered our best run with what they do. It starts on the defensive and, and the glass, and then they get out and run. We were able to make enough push on defense, get on the boards and even get out in transition ourselves a little bit to start the third quarter, but it wasn't enough," said Mainland coach Dan Williams. "They had 39 points in the first half. We talked before the game how it had to be one of those games in the 40s or low 50s. We couldn't play with them if they were going to score 70, and that's exactly what happened. But that's a credit to them. They are a well-coached, athletic, talented basketball team."

The Eagles made a return trip to the sectional championship in the first year of head coach Wayne Nelson, a former Holy Spirit standout, primarily because of the play of Jordan Herrin and Sidney Brown, who each scored 18 points, and Ronnell Garrett, who chipped in with 12. Mainland had three players in double figures, including Jones with a team-leading 16 points, Savitch with 15 and senior center Osun Osunniyi with 10, but it wasn't enough to get the Mustangs within striking distance in the fourth quarter.

"They had size and athleticism. All that height really bothered us. But we never gave up," said John Mairone, who added six points for Mainland. "If we could have gotten one more little spurt we would have been in it, but we missed some layups and didn't convert on some foul shots. And that can be the difference in a playoff game."

Despite the loss, Mainland finished with 20 wins and Cape-Atlantic League National Conference title.

"We had the second-most wins in school history this year, which is huge for us. I think basketball at Mainland is just going to keep growing," Mairone said. "In the second half of the year, we moved the ball a lot better and really bought into defense, which won us a lot of games. We had a great year."

Williams said it was an emotional locker room following the game.

"There were a lot of tears (in the locker room). You can never prepare for what you're going to say to them, especially a group like that," he said. "From the guys who started to the guys at the end of the bench — who not only never complained, but did every last thing we ever asked of them and were some of the best kids you'd ever want to have in your program — it is a special group. It's hard as heck to let a group like that go. I told them I was at a loss for what to tell them, other than I love those guys."

Contact Dave O'Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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