MANSFIELD, Mass. – Early in Thursday night’s season opener at the Albertini Gym, Mansfield looked like it might be on the ropes. Even though it was only midway through the first quarter and the Hornets were only down single digits, the game was being played at the pace and style that King Philip loves. Chaos reigned.
Mansfield hung on with its defense, broke the press a couple of times, and built the confidence that would allow the Hornets to turn it around and pull out a 56-48 victory in their first game under first-year head coach Heather McPherson.
“KP wants to embrace the chaos and they made us adjust to the chaos,” McPherson explained. “We knew it was coming but I think a lot of it has been the girls trying to figure out our new culture and new adjustments and then getting in this kind of game. I couldn’t be happier with my girls.
“It would’ve been easy for them to doubt it starting in that slow rut but I had 10 girls I was confident throwing in and I think the depth for us was huge.”
Even with head coach Dan Nagle watching the live stream at home after being sidelined because of COVID protocols, KP jumped right into its high-energy, fast-paced game plan. Grace Clyde kicked it out to Courtney Keswick for a three and a drive by Caroline Aaron (game-high 14 points) made it 7-2 early.
Although the Warriors were forcing turnover after turnover, they were unable to convert the defense into baskets, which helped keep the score close early.
“I tried to my best for Dan and keep with the system,” joked assistant coach Nicole Nunes, who was filling in for Nagle. “Our shots just weren’t falling. They kept getting the long ball deep off of the press, we weren’t getting back quick enough, weren’t getting rebounds.”
The Hornets chipped away and started to get behind the press. Kara Santos set up Brooke Berube (10 points and 10 rebounds) for a layup and Olivia Salisbury (four assists) laid a pass into Sarah Dooling (12 points and 10 rebounds) for another easy finish to cut the lead to 11-9.
Back-to-back baskets by Liv Lafond (eight points), including a steal and layup, pushed the lead back to six but Kayla Vine (team-high 13 points and seven rebounds) scored off a Salisbury assist to make it a four-point game after one.
After KP went back up by six, Mansfield went on a 7-0 run to grab its first lead of the night. Kara Santos knocked down a jumper off a feed from her sister Ashley, Abby Wager scored with a putback, and Anna Darlington capped the run with a steal that turned into a three-point play and 20-19 lead.
“That was our send home from the beginning,” McPherson said. “We’re going to make mistakes and it wasn’t going to be you’re coming out after a mistake but how you come back from that mistake that sets the tone. It can’t be a missed layup and then dogging it on defense, it’s got to be a sprint back.”
The Warriors bounced right back with six straight. Emily Sawyer scored in the paint off a Jackie Bonner assist and then Aaron went to work with back-to-back steals and transition buckets. She scored eight of her 14 in the second. Vine answered back with her first three of the night and the teams went into the break tied at 25.
Momentum was with the hosts and the Hornets turned it on in the third to break the game open. Mansfield outscored KP 13-4 in the quarter. Dooling scored on the press break (off a Berube assist) and Vine followed with her second three in as many quarters. After Santos finished at the rim, the Hornets led 34-27.
With the style that KP plays and the number of shots that the Warriors are going to get up in a short span, no lead feels safe, but Mansfield never allowed KP to get any closer than eight points in the final quarter. The Hornets strength in the paint proved too much to handle.
An Ally Prentis steal led to a Wager layup, but Keswick (10 points) answered with her second three. Berube scored with an offensive rebound to build the lead to back to double digits and then she fed Dooling for a three-point play and the largest lead of the night for the Hornets. Berube added four more points, both baskets coming off rebounds, and had six of her 10 in the fourth.
“We were waiting for that fire from our seniors,” said McPherson. “The senior leadership has been top notch. The poise of our team down the stretch was huge.”
KP kept running and Lafond added a layup and assisted on a Sawyer bucket to try and keep things close, but Mansfield was able to stay in control and see out the win.
“We were a little sloppy on the offensive side, a little rushed passes, not typical for KP,” said Nunes. “But it’s our first game, we’re in masks, it’s a little different for everybody. Good thing we play again on Sunday, right?”