By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
MANSFIELD, Mass. – With 19:37 left in the a scoreless game, Wellesley coach Erin Stickle called a timeout. Up until that point, the Raiders had dominated play, albeit without finding the back of the net. Twenty-six seconds after the timeout, Mansfield scored.
Olivia Horn, playing her final game before going on a mission trip to Africa, swept home a centering pass by Caitlin Whitman on one of the few clear chances the Hornets had up to that point.
Mansfield controlled play for the final 19 minutes and, with help from a last-minute save by goalie Brenna Prior, pulled out a 1-0 win over the Raiders at Alumni Field and advanced to the Div. 1 South semifinal to face rival Franklin.
The Raiders had started the second half strongly and Prior was forced into several clutch saves to stop Ling Groccia and Danielle Hickman from opening the scoring. Groccia also whiffed on a good look from close-range.
The Hornets had escaped, but head coach Theresa Nyhan was hesitant to call a timeout. She smiled when asked about Wellesley taking a timeout and allowing her to settle down her team.
“I’m glad she called the timeout,” said Nyhan. “The clock doesn’t stop so you want to keep those in your pocket.”
Out of the timeout, Mansfield started to push forward and Whitman got room on the left side of the attack. She played a ball across the middle of the crease where Horn was stationed and the junior attacker redirected the pass inside the post for the goal.
“We have a player in her last game because she’s going on a mission trip,” said Nyhan, indicating that it was Horn that would miss the remaining tournament games. “She played out of her mind today.”
For the first 41 minutes of the game, it was the Raiders that had the territorial edge. Wellesley was bottling up the Hornets attack, particularly limiting the touches of senior Caroline Maher, who was moved from the middle out to the wing to try and find space.
“When you score four goals in a game (against Duxbury in the first round) you’re going to get attention,” said Nyhan of the Wellesley defense keying on Maher. “It’s great to see other players step up and make plays.”
The Raiders thought that they had taken the lead in the ninth minute when a long shot from nearly midfield took a deflection and snuck past Prior. The referee waved it off because the deflection was by a Mansfield defender not a Wellesley player and thus did not count.
Horn had the two best chances for the Hornets in the opening half, but both were saved at the near post. Following the Mansfield goal, Julia Todesco had a shot from the middle of the crease kicked aside and Horn had a shot from a Todesco pass that was saved.
Amalia Todesco had a chance off a corner that was saved and then Brianna Puccia had the follow up blocked off the line by a Wellesley defender.
With five minutes remaining, Mairead Dunn was given a card for blocking a restart, which left the Hornets down a player. Amalia Todesco and Jennifer McCabe were immense down the stretch intercepting Wellesley passes towards goal.
The Raiders continued to press until the final whistle and created one last chance with only 59 seconds remaining, but Prior once again kicked out a leg to stop the shot and the rebound was cleared over half.
“Everyone needs to make plays and she stepped up with her leg and her arm and came through with a big stop at the end,” said Nyhan.
The final whistle blew and the Hornets mobbed the goalie and celebrated another big win to advance to the sectional semifinal. Standing in their way will be Franklin, their rival and the team that they edged for the league title this season.
The semifinal will also provide the chance to determine the winner of the season series with the two teams splitting their regular season games.
“They’re a strong team, well-coached and…I love the Hockomock,” said Nyhan, “and I’m glad they weren’t knocked out.”
The semifinal will be played on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Alumni Field.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.