By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – With the game slipping away in the second half, turnovers piling up, and shots clanging off the rim, Mansfield looked like it was on the brink of picking up its first league loss of the season. Then the Hornets found a second wind, and their shooting touch, to pull out the win.
Seniors Jackie Carchedi, Caroline Maher and Jen Kemp knocked down three straight shots from beyond the arc to turn a three-point deficit into a three-point lead. After four free throws were matched by a pair of Franklin layups, the Panthers had one more chance to send the game to overtime but Carli Koffinke’s shot went halfway down and rimmed out.
Mansfield battled back in the fourth quarter for a 51-48 road victory over its rival that keeps the Hornets one game in front of Attleboro at the top of the Kelley-Rex division standings.
“We played inexperienced in the third quarter and that’s surprising for a veteran group,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “We kind of just hung around enough and then we bang in three threes and suddenly we have the lead and didn’t feel like we should be up.”
“These are two very good rivals and this is how it always is; neither side is going to give an inch.”
The Hornets led 24-16 at halftime thanks to a big second quarter from sophomore center Meg Hill, who scored eight of her game-high 17 in the frame. Hill also added four blocks and finished with a game-high 11 rebounds. The Mansfield defense was also smothering Franklin. The Panthers did not hit double digits until there was 1:40 left in the half.
While the half was a struggle, Franklin did find a little momentum before the break. Kristen Donaghy and Margaux Welsh each knocked down threes and sophomore Grace Sameski scored on an offensive rebound to cut the lead to eight.
That energy certainly carried over to the second half. The Panthers stormed out of the locker room and took over the game, scoring the first 15 points of the third quarter and completing an 18-2 run that gave Franklin its biggest lead at 34-26.
“They got a little momentum and they cant miss,” said Redding. “We can’t make a shot and I’m trying to save a couple of timeouts for the fourth quarter. I probably could’ve used five of them in the third quarter.”
Franklin coach John Leighton laughed when asked if he had given a dramatic halftime speech to elicit that type of run. He said, “We tried to change up what we were doing defensively cause Meg Hill is a great player.”
Leighton explained, “We tried to limit the touches for the wings cause they’re such a good outside shooting team and, give her credit, Meg took advantage. In the second half, we tried to pack it in.”
Mansfield went zone to combat Franklin’s success off the dribble, but the Panthers were able to use Aubrie Kutil (eight points, nine rebounds) in the high post to draw the wing defenders into the middle and open space for the shooters. Lauren Rudolph (11 points) suddenly had space and hit a trio of threes, including one of a step-back that had the Panthers bench on its feet.
“Lauren is just such a good scorer,” said Leighton. “In the first half she didn’t get a lot of looks but in the third quarter it opened up a little for her.”
He also praised Kutil for finding space, taking Hill off the dribble, and also being able to find the right pass to pick apart the zone, including a kick out to Caroline Maguire for three of her seven points (which all came in the third). He joked, “[Aubrie’s] my center-point guard.”
“If you let Meg [Hill] stand then you’ll never get inside, so we hoped to make her move a little bit and we did, got her into a little foul trouble and it opened up some things.”
Mansfield helped out by turning the ball over in the third quarter. Redding admitted that the Hornets were “rattled” in the second half but Juliana Newell hit a jumper and Maher (six points) finally found the range on a three that cut the Franklin lead to 36-31 heading into the fourth.
Hill scored to start the quarter and cut the lead to three but junior Catherine Gray got inside and answered with a three-point play on the other end. With Franklin leading 41-35, Carchedi (nine points) hit a three only to have Welsh (six points) answer right back.
A minute later, Carchedi knocked down another big three then Jen Peel (10 points, eight assists) threw a perfect cross-court pass to Maher who was open in the corner and tied the game at 44-44.
“I don’t know when it happened but the switch came on and Jackie and Caroline came alive and got us back into it,” said Redding. “I give Caroline credit. She was in a little slump but she came through with some big ones down the stretch to get us the win.”
Carchedi was forced to the bench after a hard collision on defense (she also went flying into the stands to save a loose ball in the first half, knocking over the water jug and scattering fans behind the Franklin bench). In her place, Kemp stepped up and made her only shot from the floor to give Mansfield the 47-44 lead.
“I was surprised that Jen took the shot, she usually defers,” said Redding. “It was a gutsy shot. We had some momentum there and we were in position to rebound.”
Peel and Carchedi each hit a pair of free throws and Olivia Adiletto answered each time with layups on the other end to keep the lead at three. After a missed front end of a one-and-one, Franklin had one last chance with 12 seconds left. The Panthers swung the ball around to Koffinke in the corner and her shot looked pure but somehow bounced out allowing Mansfield to breathe a sigh of relief.
Leighton said, “I thought we had a good play and got a good look. I was happy; we always talk about end of the game three-pointers, take the shot and she took it and it was halfway down.”
Redding could only shake his head at another grueling night in the Hockomock. No complaints for the Mansfield coach, as his team remains in first.
“To win at OA and at Franklin in the same week…that’s a good week,” he said. We looked at the schedule and said those are two very dangerous road games, so to get the wins and go back home for two games next week, we’ll take it.”
Mansfield (9-2, 7-0) will be home on Tuesday to host Foxboro. Franklin (4-4, 3-4) will host Stoughton.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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