MANSFIELD, Mass. – Last season, King Philip and Mansfield shared the Kelley-Rex division trophy. Earlier this year it looked like both teams were in line to repeat before the two teams met for the first time. The Hornets won that game 4-1 and are now on the verge of a third straight title, while KP went into a tailspin, losing four straight.
On Monday night at Alumni Field, the two teams met again. Behind a pair of goals from Avery Snead, the Warriors beat Mansfield 2-1 to force the Hornets to wait a few days before clinching the title and to regain some of their confidence with the state tournament looming.
“It’s nice to be back on track again,” admitted King Philip coach Gary Pichel. “We lost our way for four games, had some bad luck, but you’ve got to keep marching forward to get ready for the playoffs. Our record isn’t stellar but we may surprise a couple people along the way.”
KP has been trying out a number of different lineups and formations in the last couple of weeks to try and find a set up that would work best. On Monday, Pichel pushed Snead up top as the lone forward and moved Chloe Layne into a central midfield role to give her more touches and allow her to create.
“The four games we lost, I was experimenting where is Chloe best served and she showed it against Taunton in the center spot,” Pichel explained. “She just became old Chloe again. Now she’s back and thank God. When you separate them like that then it creates chances for Chloe coming from [midfield] and Avery if she gets chances then she’ll make the most of it.”
The formation shift nearly worked right from the opening whistle, as Layne squeezed between a couple of Mansfield defenders and created space on the left side of the box. Her cross flashed across the goal and was knocked out. On the ensuing corner, Faye Veilleux’s header from a few yards out went narrowly wide.
While it was a good start for the Warriors, Mansfield started to bypass the middle of the field and use its speed on the wings. The Hornets hit long diagonal passes in behind the KP fullbacks and were able to create a number of chances.
Katie Garvin slid a pass through to Sydney Mulkern down the right channel in the eighth minute and the winger was able to pick out Steph Kemp alone in front. KP goalie Taylor Butler (six saves) needed to be out quickly to smother the shot. It was a sign of things to come in the first half.
A cross from the right side by Erin Daniel found Melissa Reef in space on the far side of the box, but she was unable to keep her header down. In the 21st minute, Kemp dropped in to pick up the ball and she slipped Cassidy McMahon in behind the defense only for the junior winger’s shot to come back off the far post.
McMahon was causing havoc on the right side. She cut back onto her left foot and forced a diving save from Butler and she also set up freshman Katie Miller for a chance from 20 yards that went over.
“We had lots of opportunities,” Mansfield coach Kevin Smith said. “Their game plan was great, to condense the space in the middle, so we had to do that. We couldn’t play through the middle. We found space on the outside, but we couldn’t find that final pass, that final score.”
The Hornets profligacy in front of goal, gave KP the chance to grab the lead against the run of play. A long ball forward bounced around and Abby Baker was able to head the ball between a pair of Hornets defenders. Snead chased after it and was able to use her long reach to just get a touch on the ball in front of Kerina Geminiani and with Mansfield goalie Lauren Whitman stranded.
The lead was very short-lived. Only a minute later and the Hornets were right back in it. Again it was McMahon that created the chance, cutting in from the right. She picked out Kemp in the middle, a good turn to free her right foot and the senior found an angle to slide her shot past Butler to make it 1-1.
“Just under a minute,” Smith said of the quick turnaround by his team. “Always keep it in mind that we can score when we’re down. And we had opportunities in the second half too.”
In the second half, the Warriors were more cognizant of the diagonal pass attacking the fullbacks to try and slow down the Hornets attack. Mansfield still had chances to take the lead, including a cross from McMahon on the left that nearly got to Mulkern on the back post if not for an intervention by Paige Varvarigos.
A throw-in from Daniel then found Kemp in space and she hit a low cross to McMahon, who had made a long run unmarked down the left, but her shot went over the bar.
KP started to come into the game after that chance and create scoring opportunities of its own. Snead picked the right pass to find Ally Stanton in space, but her shot was saved by Mansfield keeper Caty DeMassi.
In the 63rd minute, the Warriors were back out in front. Layne got free on the left side of the box, in a rare foray forward, and she hit a cross/shot that went through the six-yard-box and nearly snuck inside the far post. The ball caromed off the post and straight to the foot of Snead, who made no mistake with the empty net.
“You cross your fingers and hold your breath trying to beat Mansfield because it’s hard and we were just hoping that Avery could tuck a couple in and she did,” Pichel said. “Avery came through.”
McMahon had another chance racing in at the far post, but her shot went over the bar, and Emily Vigeant’s corner with three minutes to play found the head of Reef but Butler was able to save comfortably.
Smith said, “We got the pressure on them, we had corner kicks, we had shots, but we just couldn’t find that last little touch.”
With Snead moved back to the center of defense alongside Makayla Griffin and Olivia Berry, the Warriors packed it in and largely held Mansfield at bay for the closing stretch of the game. KP nearly put the game away on the break when Jaida Caruso freed Jenna Hitchen for a run at goal, but the shot went over.
It was the big win that KP had been waiting for and Pichel thinks it can be the result that will propel the defending Div. 1 South champs on another tournament run. “Huge amount of confidence, believe me,” he said. “This is just the medicine that the doctor ordered for us. It really is.”
King Philip (10-4-2, 10-4-1) will try to keep the momentum going on Thursday at Oliver Ames. Mansfield (11-2-3, 10-2-2) can move closer to clinching the league title when it visits Stoughton on Wednesday.
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