Unbeaten Season Comes to an End for KP in South Final

King Philip girls soccer
Freshman Grace Lawler was given the task of man-marking Feehan star striker Francesca Yanchuk during the D1 South final and largely contained the forward. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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HINGHAM, Mass. – The game seemed to be going the same way as most of the 21 that preceded it. King Philip was hoarding the ball, putting consistent pressure on the opposing defense, creating scoring chances, and looking comfortable at the back after a switch to a 4-5-1 formation at halftime.

Suddenly, with little warning, everything changed in Saturday’s Div. 1 South final at Hingham High. A penalty given, a tying goal scored, and all the momentum (as well as the wind) suddenly at Bishop Feehan’s back.

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In a battle of unbeaten top seeds, Feehan rallied with two second half goals in the span of four minutes to secure a contentious 2-1 victory and claim its first sectional title. The Warriors (21-1) lost for the first time this season and fell just short of a second South title in three seasons.

KP coach Gary Pichel was left fuming and frustrated at the final whistle, believing calls that went against his team in the second half, particularly the penalty, changed a game that his team was otherwise controlling.

“We were in control,” he said, “except for the momentum-breaking calls out on the field that sent the ball the other way. We completely owned the field. The effort was there, the motivation was there.”

Frustration aside, he also praised Feehan for its fight back in the second half. “They worked just as hard as we did and the breaks went their way, so they’re the champs. I give all the credit to them for hanging in there and working as hard as they did.”

The Warriors came out with the wind at their backs in search of an opening goal. Chloe Layne, the league MVP who was recently selected as an All-American, had the first chance on a short goal kick. She got onto her left foot and sent a cross into the middle, but Ashley Kelly just got across to clear.

Feehan’s best chances in the opening half all came off set pieces. An Annie Pearl free kick was headed at the back post but Olivia Berry blocked it on the line and cleared for KP. In the 25th minute a free kick from Hailey Goodman was redirected on target but comfortably saved by KP keeper Taylor Butler.

KP dominated the majority of the half, taking advantage of the wind. Avery Snead cut across the edge of the box and sent in a left-footed shot that had to be saved at full stretch by Madison Breckner. Makayla Griffin sent Snead into space a few minutes later but her shot on the run was saved by the keeper.

In the 35th minute, the pressure finally paid off. Griffin whipped in a corner from the far sideline and Snead was there to nod it home from just a few yards out, putting KP deservedly ahead 1-0.

Jenny Montville had a chance to double the lead just before the break, but her shot from 20 yards sailed over the bar.

At the start of the second half, KP had several chances to add to its lead. Snead fed Layne, who in turn played Montville into the right channel but her chip over the onrushing keeper went just past the bar. In the 53rd minute, Snead slipped Kiera Lindmark down the left side and she hit a perfect cross into Layne unmarked in the center, but her volley was too high.

“I thought that was going in for sure,” said Pichel. “That was a perfect ball and [Chloe’s] usually adept at volleying it into the net. If that went in, then it would have been lights out I think.”

Despite the misses, KP looked largely untroubled. The defense, which had allowed only three goals during the regular season was keeping Feehan at arm’s length. Butler had to make a save at the near post when Goodman cut in on her left, but the combination of Griffin, Berry, Paige Varvarigos, and freshman Grace Lawler limited Feehan’s chances.

Lawler in particular stood out because she was matched up against Feehan junior striker Francesca Yanchuk, who has already amassed more than 100 goals in her career. Lawler met the physical battle and gave Yanchuk no good looks at goal for 60-plus minutes.

In the 63rd minute, a penalty was given when a Feehan player went down in the box. The KP defense and bench argued that there was no contact from the defender, who was shepherding the attacker away from goal. The official pointed to the spot and Yanchuk put enough power to give Butler no chance.

After tying the game, Feehan took control of the match and went in search of a winner. Moments after a collision between Yanchuk and Butler forced the trainer to take a look at the KP keeper, Sydney Kofton lofted a pass behind the KP defense for Yanchuk to chase and the forward beat Butler to the spot before deftly slipping the ball past the keeper and inside the post.

KP would create a couple of chances to equalize in the closing minutes. Jenna Hitchen set up Montville for a shot that was saved and then Layne hit a shot off the bounce with two minutes to play, but her shot went straight at the keeper.

It was not the ending that this KP senior class was looking for after a record-setting career. Layne and Snead both broke the existing program scoring record, with Layne finishing as the new top scorer. The Warriors won a pair of Kelley-Rex division championships and went to two South finals, winning the title in 2017. The 21 wins that the Warriors amassed this season was a program best.

“Im very proud of the kids. I’m super proud of them,” Pichel said. “They’re champs in my eyes, in the eyes of their fans, and their families and friends. I’m going to be sad to see these kids go. Had them for four years, the senior class is like, the best I ever had. You hate to see them go.”

“There’s been a ton of accomplishments. Final touches were going to be to win this and give it a great shot at states, but …”

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Dominant Defense Carries Mansfield to D2 Super Bowl

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Mansfield celebrates the Div. 2 South title and a berth in the Super Bowl after a 22-3 win against Natick in the sectional final. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NATICK, Mass. – As the celebrations took place all around him at Natick’s Memorial Field, Mansfield coach Mike Redding was able to smile and joke about the old adage that an ugly win is so much better than a beautiful loss. That counts double this time of the year.

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The Hornets racked up nearly 100 yards in penalties, had three first half drives stall inside the red zone, and didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Div. 2 South title game, but still walked away with a 22-3 road win against top seed, and previously unbeaten, Natick.

It was the defense that carried Mansfield to its first Super Bowl since 2013. The Hornets allowed only 45 rushing yards, six yards passing, had three sacks, and held Natick to only two first downs on the night. Both first downs came on one drive in the first half, and one came by way of a penalty.

“As sophomores they lost in the semis, lost last year in the finals, this year we get there and win it, so every year they just go a step further,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said of his senior class. “They’ve overcome a lot of stuff, injuries, and it’s a great group and it will be a lot of fun taking them to Gillette. I told them they’ve been through a lot but it’s all worth it when you walk down the ramp at Gillette Stadium.”

Senior running back and linebacker Vinnie Holmes (18 carries, 131 yards) added, “This just means the world to everyone. We’ve just worked so hard for this. Winter, spring, in the weight room, we just knew that this was our goal. We wanted to get to Gillette and that’s exactly what we did.”

On its second possession of the game, Mansfield started to move the ball. Jack Moussette (6-of-11, 64 yards) hit Cincere Gill for a perfectly executed 16-yard completion to the near sideline on third down to jumpstart the drive. Gill (seven carries, 41 yards) then weaved his way for 17 to the far sideline and Michael DeBolt (six carries, 41 yards) added 10 more to the Natick 14.

A chop block penalty backed the Hornets up and, despite a completion and a draw play to Holmes making it a manageable third and four, the Natick defense held firm. DeBolt booted the Hornets into the lead with a 26-yard kick.

The hosts answered right back. Natick started at its own 40 and two plays later were given a boost on a 15-yard penalty to reach the Mansfield 37. Two five-yard runs, including one by quarterback Will Lederman, who had missed the last four games with a knee injury and wasn’t expected to start the final, and an offsides call made it first and five at the 22.

Holmes stuffed a play for a three-yard loss and a pair of incomplete passes forced Natick into a 41-yard field goal by Sam Waltzman to tie the game. It was as close to the end zone as the Redhawks would get all night.

Mansfield again marched into the red zone in the second quarter but an illegal push call backed them off the goal line and a hold backed them up to the 13. In the end, DeBolt was forced to come on and get Mansfield three more with a 21-yard kick.

Natick fumbled the ensuing kick and Mansfield appeared to recover it, but the officials ruled that the ball went out of bounds first. Lederman nearly hit Nick Ofodile on a bomb on the first play but it was dropped. Nico Holmes and TJ Guy stuffed the next play for no gain and on third down Everett Knowlton pressured Lederman into an incompletion.

Vinnie Holmes broke free for the first time on a 53-yard run to get the Hornets to the 32. After a nine-yard pass from Mousette to Danny Rapoza, Mansfield had first and 10 at the 17. Moussette tried two passes to the corner but both fell incomplete and DeBolt came out again to kick a 28-yard field goal and make it 9-3 at the half.

“We moved the ball but just couldn’t finish,” Redding explained. “They’ve got some big dudes and once we got in the red zone, they know we’re not going to throw and it just got tough and then we shoot ourselves in the foot with all the penalties. It felt like at the half we should’ve been up 14, 17-3.”

On the opening drive of the second half, Mansfield was struck by a controversial penalty on Gill. The junior running back was ruled out for the rest of the night, but Redding saw the ejection as adding even more fuel to his team’s second half push.

“I thought it was unwarranted,” he said, “but it rallied the troops for sure and emotionally everybody stepped up and everybody got more physical. Backs were running hard and it was like, this is our game and we’re going to take it.”

Late in the third quarter, Mansfield appeared to convert a third and 14 on a screen pass to Holmes only to have it called back on a penalty. On the next play, Mousette connected with Nick Marciano for a sliding, 15-yard grab. Facing fourth and one, Marciano gained eight on a draw play to keep things moving. Marciano (nine carries, 41 yards) got the call again at the three, running the wildcat and finding a hole on the right side for a touchdown.

“We couldn’t punch one in, settled for three field goals,” said Holmes about Mansfield offense. “In the locker room we were just saying we need to punch this next one in. We need to punch it in and that puts us in a good position to win.”

Chris Graham sacked Lederman to start the next drive and then he and Holmes pressured the quarterback into an incompletion for a three-and-out. Mansfield’s offensive line and running game seemed to have worn down the Natick defense. Holmes and Marciano combined for nine plays and 53 yards, with Holmes breaking an 11-yard rush, to make it 22-3 with just 4:45 to play.

“Defense played great all night,” said Holmes. “Everyone just played their hearts out, played with enthusiasm. It was a great game.”

The Hornets continued to make plays defensively. Graham got his second sack of the night, then combined with Nico Holmes to stuff Natick running back Jalyn Aponte for no gain. On third down, Nick Bertolino stepped up from his cornerback position to make a big hit and a fake punt came up short.

“Oh my God, it’s crazy,” said Graham following the trophy celebration. “It’s great to be able to go back to Gillette. We wanted it so bad, we’ve been working so hard, trying so hard. Every morning in the summer we were up early in the weight room.”

He added, “When we got into the locker room on Monday, we had a note taped on the locker that a Natick player said we weren’t going to score one point on them. That their defense was too god. Well, we came out 22-3.”

Mansfield (9-1) will take on North champion Lincoln-Sudbury in the D2 Super Bowl at Gillette the weekend of Dec. 7. The date and time of the state title game has not been set.

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KP Gets Off to Strong Start, Books Place in Final

King Philip Girls Soccer
King Philip players celebrate one of the three first half goals by the Warriors in a 4-1 victory over Needham. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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HANSON, Mass. – In the playoff opener against Hingham, King Philip took time to get going and watched as the Harborwomen put them under pressure from the opening whistle. It was a learning experience for the Warriors that they need to be ready to go from kick-off and take control of matches.

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It was a lesson that the Warriors put into practice on Wednesday afternoon at Whitman-Hanson’s O’Neil Field against No. 12 seed Needham. KP scored three times in the opening half hour and rolled to a 4-1 win that books its place in the Div. 1 South final for the second time in the last three seasons.

“We talked about it just before we came out that we really wanted to press them hard and put them back on their heels and make them think about defense more than their offense,” said KP coach Gary Pichel.

KP has had a target on its back essentially from the start of preseason practice, as the Warriors came in as one of the favorites in D1, and the players have managed to keep rising to the challenge.

“It has been tough to play with that target on our back,” said KP senior Makayla Griffin, “but we just take it one game at a time and focus on the game that’s coming up rather than looking in the long run.”

While KP would have the bulk of the early possession, Needham had the game’s first good look in the third minute when Samantha Scully teed up Madeline Ledbury for a shot from the edge of the box, but it sailed over the bar.

In the 13th minute, the Warriors started to convert their pressure into scoring chances. Jenna Hitchen slipped a pass into Chloe Layne, who then set up Avery Snead for a shot from 25 yards that forced a save. A minute later, Snead settled a throw-in from Paige Varvarigos, stepped inside her marker onto her right foot, and fired a shot that needed to be tipped over.

The opening goal nearly happed in the 19th minute when Snead headed down a Griffin corner and then knocked the rebound through the box, but Needham defender Maylin Carr cleared off the line just in front of Hitchen.

A minute later, it was 1-0. A ball out of defense from Varvarigos found the feet of Snead, who deftly flicked it into the path of Layne behind the Needham defense. The Rockets nearly got back into position but could only get a piece of the shot that slipped inside the post.

Once in front, the Warriors stepped on the gas with a pair of goals only a minute apart. Layne played provider for the first, finding a way through a double team to get off a cross from the left that found Snead for unmarked flicked header in the six-yard-box. The second came off a Griffin corner, as Snead met it at the back post with an unstoppable header that made it 3-0.

“We just came in on fire,” Snead explained. “Getting the early goals just allows everyone to relax because everyone is so stressed out in the beginning. Getting the early goals just calms us.”

She added, “[Chloe and I] just found a lot of space in the middle and we just kept trying to check to the ball and play through balls to each other. Once we got the first one, then we just got on a roll.”

Needham didn’t go quietly. In the 32nd minute, Ledbury had a free kick from 30 yards come back off the bar and it was Scully who reacted first to force the rebound over the line. That spurred the underdogs into their best spell of the match, closing the half as the team on the front foot.

“I told them that we weren’t making many changes, I just wanted the pressure to remain the same,” Pichel said about his halftime message. “High pressure, quick on the ball, force them to make mistakes, and then capitalize on those mistakes, and you pretty much saw that. They were all over them.”

The Warriors set out in the second half to grab the momentum back. Makenzie Shandley played Layne down the left channel, but her chip over the onrushing keeper was tipped wide of the post. Six minutes later, Snead was able to slip in Shandley but pressure from the Needham defender forced the shot wide.

KP kept piling up the chances to extend the lead. Olivia Berry stepped forward from defense and delivered a pass out to the left to Hitchen, who then crossed into the middle for Layne but the last defender was able to clear. Another Griffin set piece almost picked out Snead only for the keeper to come out, challenge, and knock it away.

The defensive unit for KP, which included Griffin and Berry in the middle, Varvarigos on the left, and freshman Grace Lawler starting on the right but man-marking Needham’s Caroline Hood, stood out again. Griffin explained, “I think we’re really good at communication and knowing where everyone is going to be at all times and just talking to each other.”

In the 59th minute, Layne had a shot on the turn that had the keeper stranded but slid over the bar. Just a minute later, Needham had its best chance of the half when Ledbury got on the end of a looped cross but her shot off the bounce went wide, with KP goalie Taylor Butler scrambling across the net.

The game stayed 3-1 until the closing seconds. Under pressure, the Needham keeper spilled a cross from the left and Kiera Lindmark was able to push the rebound across the line on the third try.

Pichel said, “That’s been our trademark all season is that hustle and the hard work they put into it. Having the skill level that they have and the hard work ethic that they have is a great combo.”

King Philip (21-0) will try to secure its second South title in three years when it takes on No. 2 seed Bishop Feehan on Saturday at noon at Hingham High.

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Journey Continues, Canton Claims Central Crown

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Canton players celebrate the final point that earned the Bulldogs a 3-1 win over Westboro and the D2 Central title. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WELLESLEY, Mass. – Canton volleyball has a long history of success. The Bulldogs have won 15 league titles in the last 17 seasons and have reached nine sectional finals. But, heading into Saturday afternoon’s Div. 2 Central final against Westboro at Wellesley High, Canton had only one sectional title to its name.

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Last year, the Bulldogs had a 2-1 lead against Groton-Dunstable but were unable to hold on, as the Crusaders rallied to win the five-set thriller. Only two players (one starter) were back from last year’s squad, but the Bulldogs were right back in the same spot on Saturday. Canton edged the first two sets and then the Rangers pulled out the third to stay alive.

“At the end of the third set, we looked like scared little kids compared to them,” said Canton coach Pat Cawley. “We were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was like, come on, we’re up! We’re good and luckily in volleyball a set ends and you get to start again.”

It turns out that Cawley had nothing to worry about. The Bulldogs have been through a lot this season, including a rash of injuries that forced players to adapt to changing lineups. No one expected Canton to be back in this position, so the Bulldogs were unfazed by dropping a set.

Canton came right back in the fourth, jumped out to an early lead, and closed out a 3-1 (25-23, 26-24, 18-25, 25-21) victory.

“We kept saying don’t let up, keep pushing through, and finish it,” said senior Taylor Harris. When asked what the Bulldogs learned from last year’s final, Harris explained, “We learned that if we win the first two then we can’t let up and we have to keep pushing through and we did that today.”

Cawley said, “Half of these kids were on JV last year, so no matter what happened today we were leaving this place with our heads held high. It’s been a journey and I’ve watched these girls improve. Some of these kids who are on the court right now we weren’t even sure we were keeping at tryouts, so to watch them improve so much is amazing.”

The match was even from the start, with neither team able to build a big lead in the first set. Canton’s block, led by juniors Angie Elias, Shannon Malloy, and Liz Bickett, was disrupting the Westboro attack in the early going. Elias and Malloy had back-to-back blocks to end rallies and give Canton the 8-6 lead.

Westboro grabbed its only lead of the set at 11-10, but Bickett (14 kills and 22 digs) answered with a hit from the middle. It took a little while to get her into the game, but Harris (team-high 20 kills and nine digs) came up with two straight kills to push the Canton lead to four. Westboro got the lead back down to just one at 24-23, but Harris rose up again to smash the final point of the first.

The second set was much like the first, with Canton grabbing an early lead by neither team taking full control of the match. Claire Quinn had a kill on the outside and Harris continued to be the most dynamic attacker on the floor, stretching the Canton lead to 14-11.

“Taylor is an amazing player,” said Cawley, who earned her 200th career win in the season opener. “She’s one of the top players I’ve ever coached. Offensively, defensively, blocking she is really a great player but the other kids have to do their jobs too. Taylor is certainly in a class of her own, but without the players that surround her we wouldn’t be here.”

Bickett came through with another point after a long rally and then Harris showed off her defensive ability with a block for a point. The Rangers came right back, scoring two straight and tying the set at 19-19. A Bickett kill made it 23-20 and put the Bulldogs on the brink, but Westboro got two straight before a Harris kill made it set point.

Again Westboro tied it but two errors handed Canton a two-set advantage.

Considering Canton’s history in sectional finals, a two-set lead hardly felt comfortable and the Rangers turned things around in the third to add to the pressure. A Harris kill tied the set at 17-17 and a two-touch put the Bulldogs in front, but the Rangers scored the final eight points of the third to stay alive in the match.

If a dropped set was supposed to heap pressure on Canton, the Bulldogs didn’t show it in the fourth. They jumped out to a 7-2 lead behind an ace from Stephanie Trendell, a kill by Quinn, and a block by Bickett.

“It was really good,” Harris said about the quick start in the fourth. “That let us have momentum to finish out the game.”

Setter Jackie Morrissey (35 assists) has grown into her role this year and she was spraying the ball to several different attackers and adding points from the service line. Quinn had another kill and Bickett added two more points, but a Westboro run put the Rangers ahead 15-14. Quinn sparked a rally with another hit and a Bickett ace and a Harris kill had Canton up 21-17.

Fittingly, it would be Bickett in the middle that would get the final swing, as she buried another shot that Westboro couldn’t handle and sealed a first Central title since 2012.

Cawley said, “Liz is a big softball player. I twisted her arm to play last year. That kid has only played six months of volleyball in her life. She is without a doubt the most improved player, the quickest, I’ve ever coached. She’s just amazing.”

When asked what it meant to win a second sectional title, Cawley said, “I feel really happy for the kids. They work hard and to have this result, I couldn’t be happier for them.”

Harris added, “It means so much. We went through so much this year. We lost 10 seniors from last year, so it’s a really big deal to be back. I think working hard everyday in practice, we never gave up and we wanted to prove everyone wrong who thought we couldn’t make it this year.”

Canton (20-3) will face the West champion, either top seed Minnechaug or No. 2 seed Longmeadow, in the state semifinal on Wednesday at a time and location to be determined.

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