MANSFIELD, Mass. – Coming into Tuesday night’s game with Kelley-Rex division rival King Philip, Mansfield could have been caught in the trap of looking past the Warriors. On Thursday, the Hornets will travel to Easton to face Oliver Ames in a game that could decide the league title and on Friday night they have the opportunity to play on the Gillette Stadium pitch against Canton.
Mansfield’s seniors gathered the team together well before kick-off, even before head coach Kevin Smith had the chance to speak with his players, and re-focused their teammates.
The pregame talk worked, as the Hornets dominated the opening half and scored a pair of goals. King Philip rallied in the second half, but the Hornets held on for a 2-0 victory that keeps them within one point of Oliver Ames heading into the final two games of the regular season.
“These seniors,” Smith explained, “three have never started a varsity game until this year, but we get to the field and everyone gets together. ‘We are not underestimating this team, you’ve got to come out to play’…just the leadership they showed is incredible.”
The Hornets were fired up to start the game on senior night and controlled the majority of the opening half. They controlled possession and pushed the Warriors back into the defensive third for much of the opening 40 minutes but the first shot on goal took nearly 20 minutes. When the shot finally came, it gave Mansfield the lead.
A corner was played in from the near sideline and bounced around a few times in the six-yard-box before being tipped into the path of senior Hannah Reiter who prodded it home. Melissa Reef was given the assist out of the scramble.
Six minutes later KP had a rare foray forward and Katherine Turner pushed into the attack from her left back position before sending in a perfect cross. Abby Baker had a chance at the far post but her shot sliced wide of the post.
Emma Oldow picked off a poor clearance and set up a two-on-one with Stephanie Kemp, but Kemp’s shot from just inside the box was saved by KP keeper Emma Durant. The ensuing corner was cleared but the Hornets lofted the ball back into the box and the KP defense was caught trying the offside trap.
Reiter, a Quinnipiac University-commit, was left all alone in the middle of the box. The senior turned and took a touch before firing a low shot that Durant parried at full stretch. Sophomore Cassidy McMahon was the first to react and she knocked in the loose ball to double the Hornets lead.
“Since Mansfield’s first game with us (a 5-1 loss),” KP coach Gary Pichel said, “we made our adjustments and we’ve played really well but we can’t have these mental lapses where we’re leaving their best player, their leading scorer, unattended in the six.”
KP fashioned a couple of chances in the closing minutes of the half. Freshman Avery Snead turned her marker and fired a shot from the edge of the box that seemed destined for the back of the net until Mansfield keeper Emily Gaumond managed to save at full stretch.
“We played well except for that one shot they got,” said Smith, “which was an amazing shot and thankfully we got an amazing save, but King Philip is good. You have to be organized to play against them but I was proud of my kids. We pressed together, we stayed connected.”
Pichel added, “We’ve been bitten by the great saves of the goalie the last couple of games, but I like the way we came back in the second half and put pressure on them.”
The Warriors did turn the momentum after the break and turned the second half into an even contest. Maddie Smith had the first good chance of the half but her header on an Emma Corcoran corner flashed wide of the post.
Mansfield almost put the game away seven minutes after the break when Emma Goulet sprung Oldow with a through ball behind the KP defense. Durant was out quickly to close down the angle and palmed aside Oldow’s shot to keep it 2-0.
“We had a couple breakaways we should have scored,” said Smith. “We made some bad decisions too. We had two one on the goalie and we’re shooting from 30 yards when we should be dribbling around the goalie but that’s all learning.”
Bryn Anderson nearly set up Erin Daniel for the winner with another ball in behind the advancing KP defense, but Hanna Balunos> raced across to cover and knock the ball out for a corner with a last ditch tackle. Oldow would have another chance racing down the left channel but again Durant (seven saves) came up with the stop.
The Warriors had one more chance to cut the lead in half with 13 minutes to play but Smith could not keep her header down when she rose highest in the box and it slipped just above the crossbar.
“Overall I thought we played them even in the second,” said Pichel. “We changed our formation to add another player up top so it was a 4-3-3, which helped. We tried to get another person up top to create more pressure.”
Mansfield (14-0-2, 12-0-2) will now head into Thursday’s game with Oliver Ames knowing that a victory at Muscato Stadium will give the program its first ever league title. A draw against OA also keeps the title hopes alive as Mansfield has a league game in hand over the Tigers and would play Canton on Friday at Gillette knowing a result would clinch a title.
King Philip (11-7-1, 10-5-0) has lost two in a row, against the top two teams in the division, and will try to bounce back against Franklin on Thursday.