And no one was surprised because that’s the never-give-up type of team that Franklin is.
But when Mansfield was able to weather the storm, keep its lead, and break the pressure to pull away in the final minutes, it didn’t come as a big surprise either, because that’s the team the Hornets have been this season.
And with that, Mansfield earned a hard-fought 67-54 win over Franklin to earn the D1 State Championship, the first in program history.
“We’d knew they would press and do whatever they needed to do to get back into the game, that’s who they are,” said Mansfield senior Sam Hyland (17 points, five rebounds, four assists). “We turned it over more than we should have and we didn’t take the best shots. But from there it was just about winning the final three minutes, then winning the final two minutes, and so on. It was just about focusing at the time at hand and outworking them. They hit some deep shots, I have to commend them for those, sometimes you have to live with it. But we did enough at the end.”
Mansfield led by as much as 18 points, up 59-41 with five minutes to play in the game after Ryan Otto (four points, four rebounds) hit a deep two just before the shot clock expired.
But true to form, Franklin turned things around. Jalen Samuels (seven points, seven rebounds, four assists) hit a free throw and then took a charge to get some momentum back. Sophomore Chris Edgehill (18 points) hit in the lane and Paul Mahon (14 points) splashed in a three to get the game back to ten, 59-49 with four minutes to play.
Out of a timeout he Panthers’ Matt Elias (eight points) picked off a pass at midcourt, leading to another three from Edgehill and suddenly the Panthers trailed 59-52 with three minutes to go.
Franklin had three chances to close the gap further but Mansfield’s defense wouldn’t allow it. Mansfield forced three straight empty trips, and then in transition, Mansfield junior Damani Scottt (19 points, four rebounds) drew the defense in and dropped a pass off right under the hoop for an easy two from Otto.
The Panthers came up short on the other end again, and Mansfield went on to sink six free throws over the final 90 seconds to secure the win the D1 State Championship.
“I can’t really put it into words,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “I know the last time we were [in the state championship], the stage might have been too big. From the moment we got on the bus on Thursday, the kids were locked in. They’ve been locked in all season long. It’s been a great ride. We did great things in D1 South, we did great things in the EMass game, and we did great things tonight.”
While it looked like it may turn into a blowout in the fourth quarter, Vaughan knew that Franklin would go down swinging to the very end.
“That’s a very good team we just played,” Vaughan said of the Panthers. “We made some shots, we did some things we had to do but [Franklin] wasn’t underprepared, this wasn’t a lack of effort by Franklin. If we play this game 10 times, five go one way and five go the other. It comes down to the fact at some point in the second and third quarters, we made a few extra baskets.
“They weren’t going to go away, they weren’t going to roll over. They play hard, they compete, they do all the little things well. They were going to give us every last breath they have. Paul Mahon is one of the best players our league has seen in terms of his ability to change the game on both ends of the floor, especially defensively. He held Tyler [Boulter] (four points, seven rebounds) in check tonight plus scored points of his own. Edgehill is a special player, we still have to deal with him for two more years as a top player in the league. And Samuels is great too, and then they have great role players who step in a do a lot of things for them.”
Franklin coach CJ Neely had a similar outlook, noting that in the end, the Panthers knew it would come down to the small things. The Panthers finished 10-for-22 from the free throw line compared to 23-for-30 from the Hornets.
“As much as the hype went on all week, we talked about how at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to a couple of loose balls, rebounding and taking care of the ball, and making our free throws,” Neely said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to and they [made their free throws]. When you play in this rivalry, if you’re not making your free throws and they are, and they can go from four to an eight-point lead instead of keeping it close.
“When it starts to expand, you have to come out of what you want to do a little bit. And both teams have had to do that in all three games, we’ve gotten out of what we wanted to do because the lead extended. Then you’re doing something that you practice but it’s not your go-to or your identity. You’re trying to get back into it and you’re taking a lot of risks. Mansfield did a good job of extending their lead making their free throws, and we didn’t. At the end of the day, we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
While Mansfield had the key runs throughout the second and third quarters, they needed another one in the first quarter just to keep pace with the red-hot Panthers.
Holding a 10-9 advantage late in the first quarter behind a free throw from Samuels, the Panthers got hot from deep. Mahon took a feed from Edgehill and made a deep three, and then repeated the same sequence two plays later for a 16-9 lead with just over a minute to play.
Mansfield was able to answer over the final minute though. Hyland drove hard for two, Scott completed a traditional three-point play on a possession the Hornets had because of a steal from Khristian Conner, and then Scott came up with a late steal and went in alone for a thunderous one-handed slam to tie the game after eight minutes.
Franklin’s offense picked up where it left off as Elias drained a three to open the second quarter and junior Will Harvey joined in on the three-party with a corner trifecta for a 22-16 lead just over a minute into the second.
Hyland hit a three but Edgehill answered with a traditional three-point play to keep the Panther advantage at four. A free throw from Scott cut it to three, and two more from Justin Vine (five points) made it one after he went to the line after hauling in a defensive rebound because Mansfield was in the bonus.
With both Scott and Hockomock League MVP John McCoy (18 points, 11 rebounds) in foul trouble for the Hornets — and Samuels for the Panthers — Mansfield’s Hyland stepped up into the spotlight.
Hyland hit another trifecta, this one putting the Hornets up 27-25 with just under three minutes left in the half. Elias hit one free throw to make it a one-point game but Hyland got his layup to fall while fighting through a foul, completing the three-point play at the line. Two possessions later, Hyland once again attacked the basket, draw the foul, and got a kind bounce off the rim for another three-point play, plus a 33-26 lead.
Hyland finished with 12 of Mansfield’s 19 points in the second quarter and tied a career-high with 17 points overall on top of five rebounds and four assists.
“There wasn’t a specific game plan to get me going but we got into some foul trouble early so someone else had to step up and score points, it’s the Mansfield way,” Hyland said. “I had a couple open opportunities early that sometimes I’d pass up and wouldn’t take but fortunately I knocked them down. That gave me the confidence and then I started to get to the rim. I got a couple of bounces to go my way, a couple of calls and had a strong first half that kind of got the momentum back on our side. It ended up working out pretty nice.”
Franklin’s defense came out strong in the second half, holding Mansfield scoreless for nearly the first three minutes of the third. However, Mansfield’s defense was equal to the task and the Panthers only scored once, a layup from Mahon, during that stretch.
McCoy drained a three to give Franklin some life, pushing the lead to 38-28. Mansfield went up as much as 14 points in the frame (44-30) on a traditional three-point play from Scott. But Franklin closed with an 8-4 run with Samuels scoring the first four and Elias and Edgehill each contributing two.
Franklin nearly had a big stop to keep the deficit in single digits at the end of the quarter, but Hyland came flying in to steal an offensive board for an easy putback.
Mansfield opened the fourth with a set play to get two for McCoy, and then ran a set that resulted in a corner three for Vine. McCoy knocked down a pair of technical free throws to stretch it to 55-38.
Mahon answered for Franklin with a triple but two more from McCoy at the line, and a deep two from Otto gave Mansfield a commanding 59-41 lead, only for Franklin to charge back with its 11-0 run to make it a seven-point game.
“The resilience of this team….we’re never going to go away,” Neely said. “We’re not going to be the team that plays for the newspaper and loses by 10 or 11, we’re going to go out there and try and cut back into it as much and possible, and we’ll lose by 50 but we’ll do it trying to get back into it.
“We just couldn’t make a couple of those baskets there to get back into it. When Mansfield builds a lead like that, they do a great job of moving the ball and making you work, getting to the line and making their free throws.”
Vaughan agreed, stressing the importance of getting a big lead because he knew Franklin would continue to push back.
“This was a game we were fortunate to be up 18 so we could weather the storm and let the clock tick away,” Vaughan said. “But it comes down to what we’ve done all year. Otto steps up and has a huge basket, Vine hits the three in the corner. Different guys doing different things makes a huge difference for our team.”
While the Hornets secured their first state title win with a victory over rival Franklin, Vaughan noted his squad focused more on themselves and getting a win than about the rivalry.
“It wasn’t really about the opponent, it was just about winning this game,” Vaughan said. “If anything, there’s a part of me that knows how hard it is to get here, and I know what Franklin basketball is all about, and what CJ is all about and most of those kids I’ve coached at some point. They are great kids, great young men.
“There’s a part of me that has some sympathy. I wish there were times we weren’t in the same division and we didn’t face each other at some point. But we’ve also lost to Franklin back when they were in the South. It wasn’t about who we were playing, but it was about playing in this game and doing everything we can to win it.”
Franklin finishes the season 23-4 and had a second straight appearance in the D1 State Finals.
“The guys should be very proud of themselves,” Neely said of his team. “They are working hard year round, they are sacrificing a lot to put Franklin on the map and be one of the powers in the state. We’ve beaten a lot of good teams this season, we didn’t shy away from challenges. They should be very proud of themselves.
“These guys have brought Franklin to a place they had never been before and did it twice in a row. They have a lot to be proud of. Obviously, both teams wanted to win tonight, it’s two great teams that know a lot about each other. [Mansfield] was the better team tonight.”
Mansfield boys basketball picks up its 27th win of the season, finishing with just two losses.
“This win means a lot, I know a lot of players on [Franklin] and I’m pretty close friends with some of them,” McCoy said. “It’s definitely just amazing to beat Franklin in my last high school game.”