WRENTHAM, Mass. – Not all scoreless draws are the same. The lack of a goal does not automatically mean that a game was stale or defensive or boring. It goes without saying that not many scoreless draws have enough incidents to fill a page in a notebook either.
Tuesday night’s rematch between Kelley-Rex division co-leaders King Philip and Mansfield at Macktaz Field was the latter. It was a game packed to the brim with excitement. The teams combined to hit the post three times, the goalies combined for 11 saves, two chances were blocked on the line, and the chances did not end until the final seconds of regulation.
It was a game that had just about everything, except for a goal and a winner.
King Philip and Mansfield lived up to the billing regardless of the 0-0 final score and it leaves the teams in a first place tie heading into the final game of the regular season, which means win the finale and win a championship.
“You’ve got the two best teams in the league and they go toe-to-toe and tie,” said Mansfield coach Kevin Smith. “They’re the best scoring offense, but in the league they have one more goal than we do. We have one less [goal allowed] than they do. So, you’re talking about the two best defenses, the two best offenses and unfortunately the offenses got nullified but, as a defensive person, I love that.”
KP coach Gary Pichel, whose program is just two years removed from an injury-riddled, two-win season, added, “It had great goaltending, great defense on both sides, very stingy tonight…King Philip has had a hard run for 15 years, so this is big for us. We’re enjoying every minute of it. I’m very proud of the kids; they played their heart out.”
The blustery conditions provided an additional element of drama to the game, as the wind swept across the pitch towards the school and played havoc with clearances, goalkeeper punts, and free kicks. Even shorter passes were affected by the wind whipping from end zone to end zone.
KP took the wind at its back to start the game and it helped the Warriors put the Hornets on their heels for the majority of the first half. It started just four minutes in when Jenna Midura chased down a long ball over the top and blocked the clearance by Mansfield keeper Lauren Whitman only to have the carom go just wide.
Sophomore attackers Chloe Layne and Avery Snead got into the game shortly after, with Layne able to drag a Snead pass past a defender to get off a shot on the edge of the box and then controlled another Snead through ball to get a low shot that drew a save from Whitman. KP goalie Emma Durant was tested soon after when Cassidy McMahon flicked a pass to Amanda Mangano, whose shot was partially blocked and saved at the near post.
In the 27th minute, Layne took a throw-in just inside the left side of the box and she found a sliver of space to squeeze the ball to Snead, who took a left-footed shot that looked destined for the far corner until Whitman flew across to make a two-handed save. Just seconds later and Bryn Anderson had a go from 20 yards for the Hornets but Durant was able to get a fingertip to the ball and knock it over the bar.
In the 30th minute, Layne showed off the skills that have made her one of the league’s top scorers when she used three touches to separate herself from three Mansfield defenders on the edge of the 18 and lined up a right-footed shot only to have it ricochet off the post.
Smith said, “Chloe and Avery are fantastic and we had to double them, we had to triple them, we had to cover, have backside marks on their other players because if you double them you leave people, so that’s why we didn’t have as much offense because we have to shove our forwards back to cover their extra players.”
Six minutes before the break, KP hit the post again. A corner landed in the middle of the box and the ball popped off the foot of Abby Baker but again stayed out thanks to the woodwork.
“We went with the wind at our back in the first half to try and put a few in,” said Pichel. “We hit two posts and an inch to the right on both of them and we would’ve been up 2-0 but give them credit they kept fighting back and I thought we did pretty good pressure-wise even against the wind.”
KP had its chances in the second half as well, although the Warriors were limited by playing into the gusting wind. Layne had an early chance after a slip by the Mansfield defense but put it wide and Makayla Griffin saw her opportunity from a Snead flicked header fly wide just a minute later.
Despite all the chances that both teams were managing to create, the defensive efforts were superb from both teams. The Mansfield back four of Kerina Geminiani, Emily Vigeant, Taylor Smith, and Mikaela Maughn were stretched by the dynamic KP attack, but held firm with help from midfielders Melissa Reef and Anderson.
“Kevin’s team is always prepared,” said Pichel. “Their back four is magnificent. They took care of business. The second half we knew was going to be tough with the wind.”
“It was the best defensive battle we’ve had all season,” said Smith. “It was fantastic.”
The Warriors back line, marshaled by Emma Corcoran and Olivia Berry in the middle with Hanna Balunos and Lauren Anderson on the outside, also put in a strong shift against a varied Mansfield attack. Pichel credited a change in formation for putting the pressure on the Hornets higher up the pitch, particularly Faye Veilleux creating havoc in the center of the field.
He added, “We had better success controlling the ball today. Our middle was exposed [last time]. Our midfield was so aggressive that it was hard for them to get back…so I had to put a stopper in there and [Faye] did a great job.”
Both teams had chances to win the game in the final 20 minutes. Snead had a header off a corner blocked on its way to goal and then Smith belted a perfect 45-yard free kick that smashed off the crossbar and was cleared. Stephanie Kemp had the ball fall to her off a corner only for Lauren Anderson to get a piece of the goal-bound shot and keep it out.
In the closing seconds, Kemp would have one more chance as she tried to get on the end of the long through ball but Durant got the angle and timing perfect to smother the ball at Kemp’s feet. Seconds later, the whistle put an end to a breathless top of the table clash.
King Philip (15-1-2, 12-1-2) will have the chance to win its first title since 2002 when it hosts Franklin on Friday afternoon. Mansfield (12-1-2, 12-1-2) can seal the program’s first back-to-back titles with a win at home against Oliver Ames on Thursday night.
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