MANSFIELD, Mass. – With starting point guard Jordan Bennettt in street clothes and shooting guard Jackie Bonner forced to the sidelines with an injury in the second quarter, King Philip had its backcourt depth tested in Tuesday night’s visit to the Albertini Gym. While freshman Jessi Persky did an admirable job of staying composed against Mansfield’s pressure, senior Leah Santoro stepped up with the biggest shots of the night.
Twice in the final minutes of the game, Santoro, who hadn’t scored since the first quarter, found herself all alone in the corner in front of the KP bench, and both times she hit nothing but net. Santoro’s threes gave KP its biggest lead since the end of the first quarter and the second effort turned out to be the game-winning bucket in a 59-55, come from behind victory.
“I feel like last year there were some games that we let get away from us,” KP coach Jeff Miszkiewicz said about his team’s ability to find a way to win this season. “So, I feel like that’s something we’ve really been focusing on, the mental side of the game, staying in it no matter what. Such a big credit to the team for constantly believing in it, for really executing some amazing plays down the stretch. That execution’s what got us this win.”
KP’s backcourt played well in tough circumstances, but once again it was senior center Emily Sawyer that put the Warriors in a position to win. She scored 14 points in each half, finishing with a game-high 28 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. Sawyer’s put-back in the fourth quarter put the Warriors in front for the first time since it 22-21 and she buried a pair of free throws with just nine seconds remaining to seal the win.
“I’m so proud of her because that was one of the first things I tried to preach to her was how to move without the basketball and how to play with the ball in her hands,” Miszkiewicz said of Sawyer. “Not be biased, but she’s the MVP of the league. The fact that she gets double-, triple-, quadruple-teamed and she still has 20 and 20 almost every night is unbelievable.”
“She scored 28, and I thought our bigs handled her nicely in terms of physicality,” Mansfield coach Heather McPherson said. “I think KP rose to the challenge of [Bonner] being out and they kind of avenged that injury nicely. I think matchups were a bit of an issue, Sawyer of course, but Natalya has been playing really well for us but she’s an under-sized four.”
The game started off end-to-end, as Mansfield tried to negate KP’s size advantage in the paint by running at every opportunity. Abby Wager got going right away, hitting a jumper and then burying a three after Kara Santos (11 rebounds) snagged an offensive board. A Santos steal and long outlet turned into an easy fast break bucket.
KP climbed right back into the game. Santoro hit a tough runner and Bonner (eight points) drilled a pair of threes and another shot with a foot on the line. Olivia Salisbury (eight points) got an and-one to help the Hornets, but the rest of the scoring was all Wager. She hit a second three and finished with 13 of Mansfield’s 16 first quarter points.
Sawyer was also off to a strong start. She took a nice feed from Santoro on a sideline inbound play to score in the paint and showed off an array of moves on the block, including a nice turn around jumper that made it 20-16.
Mansfield trailed by six after one, but found a way to lock things down defensively in the second. Bonner was forced to the sideline after getting whacked on the nose and KP struggled to find any rhythm on that end of the floor.
Natalya Gill started the comeback with a banked in three and Hallie Popat knocked down a jumper. Santos added a put-back and Bridget Hanley got a steal under her own basket and went coast-to-coast to cap an 11-0 run and give the Hornets a 27-22 lead. Sawyer got a pair of baskets to cut the lead to one but Salisbury hit a jumper and Wager nailed another triple to extend the lead back to seven going into the locker room.
Each time KP seemed poised to be making a run in the third, Mansfield had an answer. Persky scored in transition to make it a four-point game, but then Hanley fed Santos (six points) on a nice dive to the rim. Sawyer grabbed a put-back, but then Hanley (eight points) drove to the basket, Ella Palanza followed with one of her own, and Gill grabbed a loose ball in the paint for a layup.
Down 10, KP went on a critical 4-0 run to close out the quarter and build momentum. Sawyer got behind the defense on the break for a layup and Persky took the contact and sank a runner on the baseline.
Paschke (nine points and nine rebounds) was proving to be a tough matchup all night and she got a couple of buckets to start the fourth quarter. Then it was Sawyer’s turn to get going again, grabbing offensive rebounds on back-to-back possessions to put KP in front 49-48.
McPherson admitted, “We have this momentum shift where we start to get down in the points and instead of trusting our offense, we kind of go rogue. KP played a great game, but what we need to do now is learn from that and figure out how we can get that momentum to shift back in our favor. We deflate instead of kind of rising to the occasion.”
Santoro looped another long sideline inbounds pass over the defense and into Sawyer’s hands for a close-range finish, but Palanza responded with a nice lefty drive through the lane to tie the game at 51 apiece. Santoro would prove to be the hero. She drilled one from the corner and then Paschke’s baseline drive drew a crowd of defenders and she kicked it out to Santoro in the same spot, with the same result.
“You don’t just replace two ball handlers like that and Leah hit some really big shots in the fourth quarter,” Miszkiewicz said of his backcourt players stepping up late. “Maddie with some strong drives. Two freshmen, Maddie Keough and Jessi Persky stepping up in that situation is really unbelievable.”
King Philip (9-4) will try to make it seven straight wins, and move one closer in the Kelley-Rex title race, when it hosts league-leading Franklin on Friday. Mansfield (8-6) will travel to Davenport-leading Foxboro on Friday looking to hand the Warriors their first league loss of the season and keep them from clinching the league title.
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