FRANKLIN, Mass. – In a game where chances are at a premium, with physical battles being waged all over the pitch, and with defenses largely coming out on top, finishing is the difference between taking home the points or leaving with none.
Mansfield had one great chance in the box and put it away. Franklin had two chances in the box and both went narrowly off target. So, on Monday night at Pisini Field, the Hornets walked away with a hard-fought 1-0 win and stayed unbeaten, while, for the second time in a week, the Panthers lost a close game with one of the two defending Kelley-Rex division champions.
“It’s such a tough opponent, such a tough place, a great coaching staff, so it’s a good win,” said Mansfield coach Kevin Smith.
The first scoring chance of the game fell to the Panthers. Junior Carly Alston sprung senior Hailey Toolin down the right wing and she crossed the ball into the six-yard-box. Junior Anna Balkus had made a late run from midfield and got free right in the center but she tried to redirect the ball with her right foot and could only touch it wide.
Mansfield took a while to get going in the game. Franklin’s pressing in the midfield was causing problems for the first 15 minutes, but eventually the Hornets started to string passes together and create looks on goal.
“They pinched their four midfielders together, so it was 4-on-3,” said Smith. “They went forward and brought more people up and then it was man-up or man-even and we were able to take advantage of that or finally go wide and then find a passing angle. Sometimes it takes a while to see what they’re doing and readjust.”
Melissa Reef had the first shot from distance but it was easily saved by Franklin goalie Breanna Atwood. Bryn Anderson nearly opened the scoring with a free kick from 18 yards out, just to the right of the box. Her shot to the near post was only a foot over the bar.
Franklin continued to worry the Mansfield defense with cutting passes in behind. Calen Frongillo was able to slide a pass through the right channel to again get Toolin, who just beat the offside trap, into space but she could only play a ball through the box that was in between a shot and a cross and that Balkus could not get on the end of.
Alston also freed up freshman Stella Regan to make a run at goal, but Mansfield defender Emily Vigeant showed off her pace (and long reach) to get a toe to the ball just before a shot could be taken. Franklin’s young forwards were giving the Hornets back line a fight, but Vigeant and fellow senior Mikaela Maughn were solid throughout.
“She’s so good. She’s been such an unsung player for us for years,” said Smith about Maughn. About Vigeant, he added, “She’s got great soccer IQ. If she has a lack of speed compared to what she’s up against, she reads it quicker than the other person and it makes her look even faster than she is.”
In the 24th minute, Mansfield struck. A giveaway at the back gifted possession to Steph Kemp in the attacking third and she quickly played the ball out to the left toCassidy McMahon. The duo played a quick give-and-go to isolate the last defender and get McMahon free on goal and the senior picked the bottom corner with a cool finish.
Mansfield had two chances to double the lead in the opening five minutes of the second half. Anderson sprayed a pass out to McMahon on the left wing and she squared the ball into Kemp inside the six, but the senior forward could not get the right contact and it was an easy save for Atwood. Anderson again played provider shortly after to set up Sydney Mulkern, but her chipped shot went over the bar.
Just two minutes later, Franklin had another golden opportunity to get on the board. Sophomore Sydney St. Marie got space to attack down the left wing and she played a perfect low cross into the middle to pick out Balkus, but her side-foot effort was again just inches wide of the bottom corner.
“It was the same thing against KP,” Franklin coach Tom Geysen explained. “I thought our kids handled the pressure pretty well, moved the ball pretty decent, made good choices up front, but when you have it wide open and can’t put it in the back of the net…”
Kemp nearly added a second for Mansfield in the 53rd minute only to be denied by Atwood. After making a tackle on the edge of the box, the forward found room to unleash a shot that looked destined for the top corner, but the keeper was able to get fingertips to it and tip it around the bar at full stretch.
Franklin continued to push until the final whistle, with the physicality from both teams ratcheting up as the seconds ticked down. In the end, Mansfield keeper Caty DeMassi made a couple of routine saves, but was well-protected by the defense in front of her and the Hornets headed home with the two points.
While disappointed to not come away with a result, Geysen was still pleased with the effort of the Panthers against one of the league title favorites.
He said, “I don’t think they (Mansfield) were expecting what they got from us after last year. When we played them the second time last year, we had nobody, but we’ve got kids that if we can just take one more step then we’ll score the goals to be competitive with everybody.”