Mansfield Stings Franklin With Last Minute Goal

Caitlin Whitman
Mansfield celebrates Caitlin Whitman’s Last-minute penalty stroke goal that gave the Hornets a win in the Div. 1 South semifinal against Franklin. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

MANSFIELD, Mass. – The Panthers had dominated from the beginning of the game, forcing Mansfield to defend deep and putting consistent pressure on the Hornets’ back line. Then, with a minute remaining, Mansfield broke forward on a rare attack on the Franklin net.

Franklin goalie Sam Jones made two kick saves, but in the mass of white and blue jerseys in the crease she was forced to cover up the ball to prevent a goal. The result was a penalty stroke with just 40 seconds left to play.

Mansfield junior Caitlin Whitman stepped up to the spot. The Hornets had been practicing and Whitman put the effort to good use, dispatching a shot into the bottom corner and past the outstretched leg of Jones.

The goal gave Mansfield a 1-0 win on Wednesday afternoon at a rainy and cold Alumni Field, decided the season series between the rivals, and advanced the Hornets to the Div. 1 South final.

“We always have a plan when we step up to the line,” said Whitman, who admitted that she had put in a lot of time practicing penalty strokes in the lead up to the game.

“I was nervous but working through the nerves is part of what we practice every day. I was trying to put the nerves aside and try to sink it.”

The Panthers jumped onto the front foot right from the opening whistle. The midfield, led by Mackenzie Pleshaw, Diana Griffin, Dana Lewandowski and particularly senior Taylor Reutlinger, blocked off every Mansfield attack and kept the ball in the Hornets defensive third.

“They’re like an onion – you peel one layer and there’s another layer and another layer,” said Mansfield coach Theresa Nyhan. She joked, “Sometimes I feel like they’re playing with 13 or 14 on the field.”

Despite the pressure that Franklin was exerting, Hornets goalie Brenna Prior was largely untroubled in the opening half. The Mansfield defense kept Franklin at bay. Ann Maher, Amalia Todesco, and Jennifer McCabe forced everything to the outside and limited Franklin to only a couple of shots that got through to Prior.

“They dominated but didn’t have a ton of shots,” explained Nyhan. “It was a lot of midfield play and even three-quarter play; they had it in that section.”

“When we got the chance to open up the field, we had some chances.”

Pleshaw had the ball in the net for Franklin in the 17th minute but it was from outside the arc and did not count. Ruetlinger had a shot kicked aside by Prior and it started a break with Maher racing into the counterattack. A steal by Whitman forced Jones into a save with just two minutes before the break.

“Early in the first half, we had more chances but nobody was going to the ball and everyone was standing there watching,” said Franklin coach Lisa Cropper. “My best attackers are freshmen and…sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimes it’s where are you? When you don’t take care of your chances then you give the other team the chance.”

Whitman had an early chance in the second half for Mansfield that was kicked aside by Jones and then Franklin went back on the attack. The Panthers had a second goal disallowed for a violation in the crease in the 34th minute and in the 42nd minute freshman Annie Walsh had a shot saved by Prior.

“I had one timeout but I wish I had four. I wanted to borrow some from Coach Redding, but I know he uses his all up,” Nyhan joked. “I was happy they used their timeout because…clearly we were back on our heels.”

Walsh had another chance in the 48th minute off a corner but no one could redirect her pass through the crease and the chance was gone. Six minutes later, Walsh again saw a shot find the side of the net not the back of it.

“Everyone says defense wins championships, but you don’t win if you don’t score,” said Cropper.

The Franklin midfield had been mostly impenetrable but as the clock wound down under a minute and the Panthers bench started making plans for overtime, the Hornets broke quickly. Julia Todesco found Caroline Maher with open field to run into for the first time all game and Mansfield turned it into a chance.

Jones made several big stops but the play developed into a scrum in front of goal with both teams trying their best to get a stick on the ball. In the end, Jones was forced to cover up and the penalty stroke was awarded.

Cropper had no complaints about the decisive call. She said, “The stroke was the correct call. We kind of broke down in the last minute and Sam had no choice but to cover it and the kid made a nice stroke.”

She added, “Their two best players really didn’t do a whole lot until right down there…we tried to have someone on them and we did it for the most part but you have to do it for 60 minutes not 59:30.”

Nyhan added “It’s unfortunate that it needs to be the game decider, but also you can’t bury the ball.”

The victory sends Mansfield to the Div. 1 South final at the expense of their rivals.

Whitman gushed, “They’re our biggest competitors in the regular season, so playing them in the tournament is a huge deal and we were all nervous, but luckily we could let that go and play our game.”

“We haven’t been here in so long. It just means so much.”

Mansfield will face perennial power Walpole on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Oliver Ames.

Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.

Horn is the Hornets Hero in D1 Quarterfinal

Olivia Horn
Olivia Horn (8) scored the game-winning goal with 19 minutes remaining to send Mansfield into the Div. 1 South semifinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

MANSFIELD, Mass. – With 19:37 left in the a scoreless game, Wellesley coach Erin Stickle called a timeout. Up until that point, the Raiders had dominated play, albeit without finding the back of the net. Twenty-six seconds after the timeout, Mansfield scored.

Olivia Horn, playing her final game before going on a mission trip to Africa, swept home a centering pass by Caitlin Whitman on one of the few clear chances the Hornets had up to that point.

Mansfield controlled play for the final 19 minutes and, with help from a last-minute save by goalie Brenna Prior, pulled out a 1-0 win over the Raiders at Alumni Field and advanced to the Div. 1 South semifinal to face rival Franklin.

The Raiders had started the second half strongly and Prior was forced into several clutch saves to stop Ling Groccia and Danielle Hickman from opening the scoring. Groccia also whiffed on a good look from close-range.

The Hornets had escaped, but head coach Theresa Nyhan was hesitant to call a timeout. She smiled when asked about Wellesley taking a timeout and allowing her to settle down her team.

“I’m glad she called the timeout,” said Nyhan. “The clock doesn’t stop so you want to keep those in your pocket.”

Out of the timeout, Mansfield started to push forward and Whitman got room on the left side of the attack. She played a ball across the middle of the crease where Horn was stationed and the  junior attacker redirected the pass inside the post for the goal.

“We have a player in her last game because she’s going on a mission trip,” said Nyhan, indicating that it was Horn that would miss the remaining tournament games. “She played out of her mind today.”

For the first 41 minutes of the game, it was the Raiders that had the territorial edge. Wellesley was bottling up the Hornets attack, particularly limiting the touches of senior Caroline Maher, who was moved from the middle out to the wing to try and find space.

“When you score four goals in a game (against Duxbury in the first round) you’re going to get attention,” said Nyhan of the Wellesley defense keying on Maher. “It’s great to see other players step up and make plays.”

The Raiders thought that they had taken the lead in the ninth minute when a long shot from nearly midfield took a deflection and snuck past Prior. The referee waved it off because the deflection was by a Mansfield defender not a Wellesley player and thus did not count.

Horn had the two best chances for the Hornets in the opening half, but both were saved at the near post. Following the Mansfield goal, Julia Todesco had a shot from the middle of the crease kicked aside and Horn had a shot from a Todesco pass that was saved.

Amalia Todesco had a chance off a corner that was saved and then Brianna Puccia had the follow up blocked off the line by a Wellesley defender.

With five minutes remaining, Mairead Dunn was given a card for blocking a restart, which left the Hornets down a player. Amalia Todesco and Jennifer McCabe were immense down the stretch intercepting Wellesley passes towards goal.

The Raiders continued to press until the final whistle and created one last chance with only 59 seconds remaining, but Prior once again kicked out a leg to stop the shot and the rebound was cleared over half.

“Everyone needs to make plays and she stepped up with her leg and her arm and came through with a big stop at the end,” said Nyhan.

The final whistle blew and the Hornets mobbed the goalie and celebrated another big win to advance to the sectional semifinal. Standing in their way will be Franklin, their rival and the team that they edged for the league title this season.

The semifinal will also provide the chance to determine the winner of the season series with the two teams splitting their regular season games.

“They’re a strong team, well-coached and…I love the Hockomock,” said Nyhan, “and I’m glad they weren’t knocked out.”

The semifinal will be played on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Alumni Field.

Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.