By Ryan Lanigan, Editor-in-Chief
MANSFIELD, Mass. – Based on the final score, it certainly looked like another typical back and forth game between Mansfield and Franklin.
But this one was different.
Franklin led by as much as 22 points — on the road at Mansfield — and looked to be racing away with a rout over the rival Hornets.
But this one was different.
The Hornets rattled off a 20-8 run to close the third quarter and then outscored the Panthers 19-7 to start the fourth quarter to take their first lead (57-55) since the first quarter. Another chapter in the storied rivalry looked to be complete with another Mansfield home win.
But this one was different.
After Mansfield took the lead with 1:46 left, Franklin coach CJ Neely called a timeout. His play had two main options — senior Tim Prunier or freshman Jay Dieterle. The defense zeroed in on Prunier and Dieterle came off a ball screen to take a pass from the senior captain. He lined up and drilled his first three of the game from straight away and Mansfield regained the lead with 1:34 to go. After a stop on the other end sophomore Paul Mahon drove to the basket for two to make it 60-57.
The Hornets had two chances at tying shots, one with just under 10 seconds to go that hit the back of the rim and one with just a half second left with junior Matt Ehrlich catching, turning and shooting from just over half court that missed off the backboard.
It marked Franklin’s first win at Mansfield since February 2012 and Franklin coach CJ Neely’s first win inside James Albertini Gymnasium. Although just in his second year at Franklin, Neely coached Foxboro for seven years beforehand.
“We came in with a good game plan I thought and I told the guys if they executed we could really hold them and keep them from scoring and we were able to in the first half obviously,” Franklin head coach CJ Neely said. “Their press hurt us a little bit. We knew Foxboro was in the same place we were in on Tuesday and we came back [against them] so we kept telling them to stick with it for the whole game. They stayed with it, they made enough plays.
“Credit [Mansfield], they’re a great team and you can’t hold them down for a whole game, we were happy to do it for a half.”
Franklin’s lead was 10 by the end of the first quarter at 15-5 as sophomore Connor Peterson scored over half of the Panthers points (8). The Panthers kept their lead for the second quarter and took a 29-16 advantage into the halftime break.
Peterson finished with a career-high 23 points and added seven rebounds. The sophomore had a pair of two handed dunks in the second half that kept some momentum with the Panthers.
“We definitely came in thinking that CP was ready to get it going offensively and we want to make sure he got the ball when he sealed well,” Neely said. “I have been all over him at practice about anticipating and being ready to score when we drive and drop off to him so he can be aggressive to the rim. It’s good to see he was listening.”
“I wanted to stay near the paint and whenever someone drove, they could lay it off to me and I’d seal my man,” Peterson said. “I’ve been been waiting to [dunk] it all season so I was really psyched about it. I know the team gets really pumped after it so it helps.”
The separation came over the first 3:30 of the third quarter. While the Panthers rattled off an 11-2 run, Mansfield continued it’s shooting woes from the first half to the second half. The Hornets were just 7/29 from the field over the first 16 minutes, including 0/10 from three point range. Head coach Mike Vaughan admitted he didn’t know the last time Mansfield went without a three point field goal, saying it had been “a long time.” To start the second half, Mansfield went 0/3 and had three turnovers.
Four straight points Peterson started Franklin’s run with Kevin Gill, Dieterle and Mahon each chipped in with a bucket.
Out of a timeout, things changed for Mansfield as Vaughan decided to up the pressure defensively with a press. It didn’t work every time but it certainly gave Mansfield a boost, with junior Matt Ehrlich being the biggest beneficiary.
Ehrlich scored 9 of the Hornet’s next 11 points and Nick Baskin, Sam Goldberg, Christian Weber and Tyler Boulter each added to Mansfield’s 20-8 run to get within 10.
“It was identical,” Vaughan said when asked if the Hornets used a similar approach in their comeback against Taunton a week prior. “I don’t even know if we’re a press team, I wrestle with it. The problem is doing it for 32 minutes, that’s hard. It might be something we have to look at doing more of just to kind of get the kids running. They seem to react better when they are moving. At the end of the day this comes down to our offense in the first half. If we do what we’re supposed to do on both ends and we can weather the storm of Franklin playing very well, I think the outcome is different. But the game is two halves. Franklin got the better of us, they did a great job. I don’t take anything away from what they did.”
The momentum carried into the fourth quarter with Phil Vigeant scoring seven straight points to cut the deficit to just three. Peterson added two for Franklin but Ehrlich answered with a three to make it a two point game. Prunier hit a three to extend back to five but Max Boen replied with a deep ball of his own. After Peterson and Goldberg traded buckets, Boen hit back to back layups and the Hornets took a 57-55 lead with less than two minutes to play.
“We knew coming in their defense was good. We played six on five the last couple of days at practice to try and prepare for it,” Vaughan said. “Timmy’s a great player on both sides of the floor. He kind of created the little bit of separation for them, gave them a consistent offensive force. He’s a special player, he’s one of the better players in the league. I thought in the second half we did a better job. When we played with energy, and we did the same thing against Taunton, and we started to do what we wanted, we’re a good basketball team.
“I take the positive at the end of the game. We’re not even midway through the season, this is a very balanced league and to see their celebration like that, it tells you where our program is at. [Franklin] had a good game plan, they played hard but we played a little flat and tentative early. I thought we would find our identity [as a team] earlier [in the season] but it’s taken a little longer than I thought. In the second half I think we saw a glimpse of what our identity is going to look like. When you can get that much celebration out of a game, it’s good for us.”
Diertle, who hit the go-ahead shot with 1:34 to go, had just two points prior to the shot. He was 0-2 from downtown and had yet to make a field goal. Still, Neely knew what options he wanted in that play.
“No hesitation with the freshman, Jay has been someone that I trust like my family, I love the kid,” Neely said. “In a big moment — we saw him have some big shots against CM too — I had no doubt it was going to go in. We had him come off the screen and we had Prunier if the defense came to Jay. He came off it and buried the shot. Total confidence in the kid, he gets it done. We have other guys we can draw it up for too but he had that look in his eye that he wanted it.”
Prunier finished with 15 points and five assists and was credited by both coaches for his play on both ends of the floor. Dieterle added six assists to his five points and Mahon had eight points and six rebounds.
Ehrlich led the Hornets with 16 points and five rebounds while Boen had 11 points and Goldberg had nine points and nine rebounds.
Franklin (8-1, 6-1) will take a visit to Stoughton on Tuesday for a 6:30 tipoff. Mansfield (6-2, 5-2) will travel to Davenport-leading Foxboro on the same day for a game at the same time.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
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