MANSFIELD, Mass. – It should have had a playoff atmosphere. Mansfield came in needing a win to stay tied with Attleboro atop the Kelley-Rex division and North Attleboro still needs a win to qualify for the state tournament and avoid a season sweep by its rival.
Maybe it was the snow outside, maybe it was because it was the first day back from a four-day weekend, but even though the game had a lot of meaning there was a distinct lack of energy in the Albertini Gym on Tuesday night.
The Rocketeers struggled to find consistent offense but cut the Mansfield lead to nine points in the third quarter, but the Hornets broke the game wide open with a 17-2 run and cruised to a 45-30 victory to remain tied for the league lead with two games remaining.
“It’s always like this when we play – points aren’t easy to come by – but the way the first half went, I thought we were pretty good on offense, but probably should’ve had 30,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “The second half we got into a funk again, just not finishing well, but played good defense.”
North Attleboro started the game in a funk. The Rocketeers were missing junior forward Caroline Collard, who is second on the team in scoring, and after an Emily Peters (six points, nine rebounds) layup tied the game at 2-2, the visitors went nearly the remainder of the quarter stuck on two points.
Jackie Carchedi (nine rebounds) scored four of her seven points in the first, including layup following a Jen Peel steal and outlet pass and a jumper that made it 10-2. Liz Morehouse stepped into Collard’s spot and scored on an offensive rebound and a free throw to make it 10-5 after one quarter.
“I thought Kiersten [Bixby] and Liz did a great job in [Caroline’s] stead and gave us quality minutes and doing some damage on the offensive end and giving us some energy,” said North coach Derek Herber.
The spark at the end of the first was quickly erased by the Hornets who started the second on an 11-0 run. Freshman Madyson Bendanillo scored on a pair of drives down the left side of the lane, sophomore Meg Hill added four of her game-high 12 points, and Caroline Maher knocked down a three to break the game open.
“We missed a couple shots and we started thinking about those things instead of just playing basketball,” said Herber. “Unfortunately we need to be tougher mentally and need to keep playing through that.”
North did recover near the end of the quarter and cut the lead, which bloomed to 17 at one point, down to 12 by halftime. Peters scored four points in the second and Emily Schromm knocked down a shot as well.
Despite having a solid lead at the break, Redding felt his team left points on the board, particularly in the paint where Hill had a distinct size advantage over the North forwards.
He said, “We were begging at halftime, get Meg some touches inside. We just didn’t get her enough touches. We feel like she could’ve dominated more.”
Mansfield came out for the second half cold and North continued to creep back into the game. Schromm scored to cut the lead to 10 and then Morehouse (team-high eight points) scored on a layup after a nifty block-to-block bounce pass by Peters that cut the lead to 26-17.
Just when North thought that it was back in the game, Carchedi knocked down a long jumper off a skip pass from Maher and the Hornets found their groove again. Mansfield would go on a 17-2 run into the fourth quarter that essentially put the game away.
“If we could’ve gotten a stop then maybe it’s a different ballgame and maybe we get a little energy into ourselves,” said Herber.
“It’s never easy when you have a couple days off because of the weather or when you’re not in your normal routine. We needed to make our own energy and we didn’t do a good job.”
Following Carchedi’s jumper, Hill scored on a short jumper off an inbounds, Jen Kemp hit a pair of free throws, Olivia Broyles scored on a rebound and all of a sudden it was a 35-19 lead heading to the fourth.
Hill scored on another inbounds layup from Peel (six assists) and then Caroline and Ann Maher each knocked down threes to build the lead to as high as 24 (43-19) and knock out the Rocketeers.
“It was one of those games that you never felt like you’re going to lose but we couldn’t shake them either,” said Redding. “Defensively, we played good man in the second half and never let them get to the point where they can make a run.”
North finally got an offensive spark in the fourth after Mansfield had made some changes to its lineup. Turnovers led to easy baskets in transition and Ashley Ahern scored all seven of her points in the fourth and freshman Julia Feid buried a jumper to cut the lead back down to 15.
Offense continues to be a struggle at times for the Hornets and Redding admitted that the team still needs to find its “rhythm” heading into the playoffs, but Mansfield is still in the running for just the program’s second Hockomock League title (the only title was in 2011), so he will take the win however it plays out.
He said, “Now we’re down to two in the league and they’re both at home. I don’t care if we score 38 or 68, right now wins are wins.”
Mansfield (15-3, 13-1) will get another test of its title credentials on Friday when rival Franklin pays a visit. North Attleboro (9-7, 8-6) will try to book its place in the tournament when it travels to King Philip.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.