MANSFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield came into Monday night’s game at Alumni Field needing two more points to qualify for the state tournament. The Hornets were celebrating senior night, trying to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Franklin last time out and looking to sweep the season series against league champion King Philip.
It was never going to be an easy task, even with the Warriors missing leading scorer Alli Meehan, but the Hornets rose to the task behind impressive goaltending from Kayla Hunter and a goal from Maggie Danehy to beat KP 1-0 and clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s just how everything falls into place,” said Mansfield coach Theresa Nyhan. “We’re coming off an embarrassing loss where we did not play well. It was senior parent night, it was a night game, and we had to qualify for tournament, so all of those things kind of channeled into this.”
She added, “Without a doubt the two best games we played this year were the ones against King Philip. King Philip is an excellent team and tonight they brought out the best in us.”
KP had the first clear chance in the game when Liz Furfari fired a cross from the right side that skidded through the crease but neither Claire Lawler or Reagan Simeone could get the necessary touch to put it away.
The next 10 minutes were completely dominated by the Hornets, who kept the Warriors pinned back in their defensive half and racked up a 7-to-1 edge in corners in the opening half. In one stretch, Abby Campbell had to use the blocker to deny a shot off a corner and then seconds later Emma Izydorczak needed to clear a shot off the line to keep it scoreless.
The Warriors did have a couple of chances in the closing 11 minutes of the half when Katie Lindmark’s pass was tipped just wide by Furfari and then Hunter made a close range stop on Lawler. Danehy had a long-range effort turned aside by Campbell.
Hunter was called upon numerous times in the second half as the league champions pressed for the go-ahead goal. Christina Hathaway saw her blast kicked aside and then moments later Furfari had a shot that was cleared off the line by a defender.
“When our goalie made the first save and then followed it up with a second one then I thought we’re in it,” said Nyhan. “We’ve played so many games where we applied pressure and the other team goes down and scores one and we get deflated but this was just…was the best game we’ve played.”
In the 48th minute, Danehy nabbed the opening goal as she raced the length of the field to get the slightest of touches to a long distance rip by Danny Radev. The ball eluded the leg of Campbell and just beat the stretch of Izydorczak to cross the line.
“She never gives up on the ball,” said Nyhan of Danehy, who seemingly covered every inch of the field. “She is relentless. She is without a doubt our most tenacious player.”
KP coach Liz Hathaway admitted that her team was trying to play away from Danehy, who was breaking up a number of attacks. Hathaway said, “She was outstanding, so we were trying to get the ball out to the right side and send in crosses from there and get players in front.”
The strategy was working for the Warriors with Furfari setting up Simeone only to have the tip go just wide and then having her own shot kicked away by Hunter. The Mansfield goalie was also forced into a solid save by Caroline Klim, teed up by Hathaway off a corner.
Nyhan said, “Huge saves. I’m so happy for her. She worked super hard in practice yesterday. We made some defensive adjustments to help her see the ball and it’s just a confidence builder for her.”
“I thought we played well,” said Liz Hathaway. “I thought we had more shots and more corners and had a lot of pressure at the end. Their goalie played great.”
As the clock wound down to zero, the Hornets all stormed the field and surrounded Hunter in goal, a clear sign of how important this game was to Mansfield.
“Not qualifying was becoming a real pressure,” Nyhan explained. “Kids were playing with their shoulders up around their ears, super tight and I think playing KP where you’re the underdog anyway, they were just like, whatever let’s go for it. Hopefully we can maintain this intensity and this level of play.”
It was only the second loss of the season for the Warriors and Hathaway said, “I guess they have our number this year.” When asked if this might be a reminder to the players of the type of intensity that is coming when the playoffs start next week, she replied, “I think it can be. We’ll have a tough practice tomorrow to get ready for Franklin.”
Hathway added, “When I have 80-90 minutes of intense practice, the girls really enjoy that and it gets them going. We’ll work to be ready for Franklin on Wednesday and try to get a win to build confidence heading into the tournament.”
Mansfield (7-5-4, 7-4-4) will travel to Oliver Ames on Wednesday before hosting Foxboro in a non-league game on Friday to close out the regular season. King Philip (14-2-1, 13-2-0) will travel to Franklin on Wednesday to close out its regular season.