TAUNTON, Mass. – Not only did Needham make 11 threes in Saturday night’s Div. 1 South final at Taunton High but the Rockets also timed them perfectly. Five of them in the first quarter, including one from just inside half-court by Thomas Shaughnessy at the buzzer, a big three to end a Mansfield run in the second, and three in the fourth quarter that each time matched a Mansfield basket.
The long range shooting of Thomas Shaughnessy (game-high 26 points, including four threes) and Matthew Shaker (20 points, including six triples) and strong play defensively to limit the Hornets on the offensive end propelled Needham to its first ever sectional title with a 65-56 victory.
“Any time a kid can hit from that range, it changes the way you play and good basketball players at this stage make big plays,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan. “I thought we didn’t make enough of them down the stretch to weather that and give us a fighting chance to go on a run.”
Needham brought four busloads of fans to the game and the energy of the crowd translated to the play on the court, as each of the five threes in the first quarter was followed by a salute of some sort to the crowd. Shaker buried three from beyond the arc in the first and Shaughnessy had 10 points, including a pair of threes.
Mansfield, which is normally a team that makes a fair amount from long-range as well, knocked down only one three, from junior John McCoy (11 points) but were having some success taking the ball to the basket. Senior Max Boen had four of his 10 points in the first but also added three of his six assists and three of his four steals.
In the second quarter, the Hornets started to put things together on the offensive end and limited Shaughnessy to just a single point. An 10-0 run to start the second, capped by a Tyler Boulter (10 points) three put Mansfield in front, but Brandon Monheimer hit a pull-up jumper and then Connor Reidy hit a three-pointer (his only bucket of the game) to give Needham a slight edge.
“We never got that separation that we needed,” said Vaughan, “and we didn’t get any easy baskets. Probably after watching the film what I’m going to be most frustrated with is we didn’t get the easy baskets that we typically try to get in games.”
Phil Vigeant stole the ball at mid-court and scored plus a foul to give the Hornets a 33-32 lead at the half. In the third quarter, it felt as though Mansfield may just start to pull away against the Rockets, who were making the program’s first ever trip to the South final, but again clutch shooting put the Rockets back in front.
Boen skipped a pass across to Christian Weber for a three from the corner and then scored on a pair of drives, including one acrobatic finish in the lane with his back to the basket. Each time, Needham had a response and Shaughnessy gave the Rockets the lead for good with a three that made it 47-44 and assisted on a basket by Mike Klemm at the buzzer for a five-point lead heading to the fourth.
“They want the game kept in the 50s for pace and we want the game in the 60s and trying to hold them in the low 50s and we just never got anything in transition, we never got any easy baskets,” Vaughan explained. “Even when we ran and jumped them and tried to speed them up, they did a good job of making possessions long and slowing the game down.”
In the fourth, Mansfield could not find a way to make a run. Every time the Hornets scored, Needham responded with a basket of its own to only increase the excitement of the crowd, which the Rockets clearly fed off.
Boulter buried a three to start the quarter but Shaker answered right back with his fifth of the night. Vigeant knocked one down at the other end to bring Mansfield back within two only for Shaker to hit one from five or six feet behind the line.
Vaughan said, “He hit two that were 25-26 feet away and, the way that we defend, those are indefensible. You have to live with those.”
Boulter scored off an assist by Sam Goldberg but Shaughnessy got free for a corner three that was the dagger for the Rockets. Needham shot 7-for-8 from the line in the final minutes to seal the win and bring the fans storming out onto the court to celebrate.
“We were holding the ball longer than normal on possessions,” said Vaughan. “We were having a hard time reversing the ball. In the first half, I thought we played 24-25 feet away when we want to work 19 feet and in.”
Mansfield finished at 23-3, including 15-1 in the Hockomock League.
TAUNTON, Mass. – Mansfield came into Friday night’s Div. 1 South final at Taunton High allowing only 37 points per game, including just 31 points in each of its two playoff victories. Of course, the Hornets had not faced a team like Braintree this season.
The Wamps, perennially one of the top programs in the state, nearly put up double what the Hornets were allowing per game this season. Braintree knocked down nine three-pointers (seven in the first half) and, even with star guard Keelah Dixon sidelined with an injury for the third and fourth quarters, rolled to a 72-43 victory and the team’s fifth South title in the past six years.
“They’re great off the dribble, they had some great drives and when we did double they kicked out,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “We’re a really good defensive team and they were simply at another level tonight executing, shooting…they’ve got a lot of kids who can score in different ways.”
He added, “Offensively, I thought we were okay but the more shots they made our morale dropped a little bit and they just pulled away.”
The Hornets were hanging around early in the game, trailing 10-6 midway through the first quarter, but the Wamps went on a 15-4 run to break the game wide open. Adriana Timberlake (team-high 17 points) and Jenna Roche (14 points) knocked down three from beyond the arc and Isabella Tonetti added eight points in the first.
It only got worse for Mansfield in the second, as the Hornets were held to just two points on a basket by senior Jen Peel (seven points), while Braintree continued to pile on with 15 to hold a 40-12 lead at the break. Dixon (13 points) added seven in the second before hobbling off at halftime.
“They’ve got nine, 10 kids who can play and, you know, they can all handle the ball, they can all shoot the three if you leave them open, and they’re a handful to handle defensively,” said Redding. “On the other end, they’re as good as anyone defensively. That’s a tough combination. We’re a good team and we certainly met our match and were humbled tonight.”
Mansfield rarely gives up 20 points in a half, but on Friday the Hornets twice allowed Braintree to score 20 points in a single quarter. That included the third, as Timberlake scored eight points, including a pair of threes, and Roche added eight of her own.
The third was also Mansfield’s top offensive quarter with 17 points. Junior center Meg Hill scored six of her game-high 19 points (to go along with 10 rebounds), Ann Maher scored off a Mady Bendanillo assist and Peel (eight assists) and Erin Daniel each nailed threes.
Hill added another seven points in the fourth and Maggie Danehy showed flashes with a finish despite contact, but the Wamps continued to execute perfectly against the Hornets defense and cruised to another sectional title and trip to the TD Garden.
Redding noted, “I like how we battled. We scored 30 in the second half. Obviously, it’s too little, too late, but the kids have a lot of heart and played more like our team in the second half.”
Mansfield will bring back all but two players for next season, as it tries to three-peat as Kelley-Rex division champions.
“Our kids had a great year,” Redding said. “To get to the final is a great achievement and it’s tough to lose like this but I’m just so proud of what we had to do to get here. Thirteen of the 15 are back and maybe this experience will get is a little deeper next year.”
One of those seniors who will not be back next year is Peel, who has been a starter for the Hornets for three seasons and turned into one of the top guards in the league. Peel found it tough to score consistently in the playoffs, but Redding knows that the Hornets will miss her next year.
“She’s seeing everyone’s best defender,” explained Redding. “Every time she gets the ball, they’re going to double and help and she’s just not getting much space to breathe let alone shoot. She finds a way; she’s such a competitor.”
Mansfield finished the season at 20-4 and 15-1 in the Hockomock League.
BROCKTON, Mass. – Prior to Tuesday night’s Div. 1 South semifinal between Mansfield and Wellesley at Massasoit Community College, questions were being asked at the press table about whether or not either team could get to 40 points.
The two teams are among the best in the state on the defensive side of the ball and both have held opponents under 40 points per game this season, including Mansfield’s Hockomock-best 37.4. In the opening round, Wellesley held Marshfield to just 32 and the Hornets limited high-scoring Attleboro to only 31.
It was never going to be a pretty game, never going to be a shootout, but in the end Mansfield did just enough on offense and once again clamped down on defense to win 40-31 and advance to the South final on Friday night.
“It was a grind,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted after the game. “This bracket is just brutal with good teams and good defenses. Right now, it’s just survive and move on and for the first time in I think six years we’re back in the final.”
He was quick to praise the Raiders, adding, “I thought maybe we could get close to 50 and hold them to 40, but they were very good defensively. They’re quick, well-coached, they took things away that we normally wanted to do.”
Mansfield was able to get out to an early lead in the first quarter by holding the Raiders to just four points. Offensively, Jen Peel could not find her own shot (scoring only five points and making one shot from the field), but she dished out three of her five assists and had a pair of steals.
When Kara Bendanillo drove and kicked out to the corner for an Emily Vigeant three, the Hornets had an 11-4 lead after one. After Wellesley cut the lead to just three, Mansfield responded with an 11-3 run sparked by sophomore point guard Mady Bendanillo, who scored five of her 11 points in the quarter.
“We call a lot of different stuff where she’s got to get the ball to a lot of different places,” said Redding of Bendanillo, “and it’s just amazing how she runs the offense. I think she may have come out for a minute or two in the first half and that’s it; she can go for 32 minutes and she doesn’t take a possession off.”
Meg Hill scored inside to start the run and then Bendanillo started to get out on the break. She finished in transition off an Ann Maher pass and then tipped the ball loose to Maher who fed it right back for another basket on the break, plus the foul.
“If Jen has to play the point then she has to do all that work bringing it up and she doesn’t get the points, so Mady has certainly been a key to transition from losing all those seniors to this group,” said Redding. “Her playing the point and creating chances for Jen has been one of the secrets of our success.”
The Hornets led 22-13 at halftime, but things fell apart offensively in the third quarter. The Raiders stymied Mansfield on nearly every possession, holding the Hornets without a made field goal and to just four points from the line in the quarter. Luckily for Mansfield, the defense did not miss a beat and did not allow Wellesley to get going, with the exception of Gianna Palli, who scored 12 of the Raiders’ 19 points in the second and third quarters combined.
“No, not at all,” said Hill when asked if it was easy to get going against the Raiders defense. “We’ve always heard about Wellesley’s defense and it was important that we kept taking shots…She was really long (Wellesley forward Dorian Cohen), so over the head wasn’t working and bouncing was too low to the ground and it was just hard to get the perfect combination but in the end it worked out.”
Hill, who was not feeling well on Tuesday, finished with a team-high 14 points and 13 rebounds, but the combination of Cohen and Leo Sperling made it very difficult to get the ball to her in the post. Even with the struggle to score, Mansfield led 26-23 heading to the fourth.
After a couple more free throws, Bendanillo stole the ball from Sperling, who had just grabbed a defensive rebound, and laid it in for the Hornets’ first made basket of the second half (10-1/2 minutes after the break). The Raiders battled back with Kelcie Zarle scoring in transition and then Palli adding a three-point play that cut the lead to five points with about a minute remaining.
Peel continued to struggle, making her lone basket on a drive to the hoop in the fourth, but she pulled off the pass of the game to set up Hill for the killer three-point play that sealed the win. Driving down the left side of the lane, Peel angled as though she was going up for the shot but with her left hand bounced a pass around the defender to the waiting Hill, who finished it with contact.
Hill joked, “If I’m being completely honest, I had no idea where the ball was and I just kind of hoped it would work.”
Redding added, “It got it to six or seven and everybody, I think, took a breathe of relief that we had a little cushion again and then we went to man and they went a little cold shooting and we made some free throws.”
It may not have been the prettiest win, but at this stage of the season there are no extra style points to be awarded. Redding certainly did not mind how the result was attained.
He said, “At this point we’ve got to be considered one of the top defensive teams. We’re holding people to 30 points on a regular basis and if we do that we can win any night.
Hill agreed, “It’s amazing, I can’t wait. It’s just live to play another day.”
Mansfield (20-2) will await the winner of Wednesday’s other semifinal between Braintree and Newton South on Friday night at 5:30 at Taunton High. The Mansfield boys will follow in their final against Needham at 7:45.
“Hey, a Hornets doubleheader on Friday night in Taunton, it should be fun,” said Redding. “At this point, we’re playing on house money, so we’ll just show up and go for it.”
But they’re a pretty good defensive team as well — and the top-seeded Hornets proved that on Monday night.
In a game with points coming at a premium, Mansfield’s defense shined and its offense made just enough plays down the stretch to pick up a 43-39 win over #4 Bridgewater-Raynham in the D1 South Semifinals.
The Trojans came into the contest averaging 67.5 points per game. It marked just the second time that B-R was held under 50 points — the only other time was when Mansfield beat the Trojans (52-45) back in January.
“Talk about a fantastic game on both ends, by both teams on the defensive end,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “I don’t know if we can say our offense or their offense was bad, I think the defense on both ends was that good. We had to have a great game plan [defensively] and I think our guys executed it. B-R had a great game plan and they executed it too. I think it came down to a few late baskets, a couple of free throws down the stretch, a couple of big rebounds we were able to secure that put is in a position to win the game.
“What tremendous effort by B-R and what they took away from us. I’m proud as hell of our guys that they were able to execute our game plan, even in a grind. Sometimes it gets hard, you lose focus or you lose track. Every defensive possession mattered and I don’t think we gave up one that were I said OK we did what we had to do our best to minimize their opportunities.”
Though there weren’t many big runs, one of the most important stretches of the game came at the midway point of the final quarter. Bridgewater-Raynham used a 5-0 spurt to tie the game 35-35 on a three point play from EJ Dambreville (18 points, 13 rebounds) and a basket from John Tesson (eight points, eight rebounds) with 3:33 to play.
On the ensuing possession, with the shot clock in single digits, Mansfield had its response on the other end. Max Boen (eight points) drained a three to put the Hornets back up, 38-35, with just over three minutes to play. It was just Mansfield’s second three-pointer of the game. After making their first attempt of the game, the Hornets missed 15 straight until Boen’s shot.
“The three by Boen was huge, that was just a huge basket for us,” Vaughan said. ”Especially considering he missed some in the first half, a couple uncontested ones. He was bummed out a little in the locker room and I just said to him ‘Just go get one, shoot like yourself.’ And he did it. That’s what seniors do, that’s what good basketball players do. They find opportunities and he made it.”
The Hornets came up with a big stop on the other end as Dambreville was called for an offensive foul. On the offensive end, Mansfield used up the majority of the shot clock before Christian Weber found Sam Goldberg (11 points, 11 rebounds) down low. Goldberg was fouled and added a three throw to put Mansfield up 39-35 with just over two minutes to play.
On the defensive end, Sam Hyland came up with a big block for the Hornets. The Trojans got possession back but Bobby Long was whistled for an illegal screen to give Mansfield the ball back. Mansfield took all 30 seconds of the shot clock, unable to get a shot off before the buzzer.
But once again, Mansfield was disciplined on defense and stepped in to take a charge from Hesson.
“[B-R] is good and they’re talented and they can put five guys on the floor at any time that can score,” Vaughan said. “We preached for a couple of days at practice this week that we had to be disciplined, we had to keep the ball in front of us. This wasn’t the same B-R team we played a month and a half ago. I thought the guys answered the test. Guys had to take on some matchups – we had some mismatches in the post, we had help, guys got beat off the dribble, help defenders slid in to take the charge. Overall, what a great defensive effort from both teams and I’m proud of our guys that we were able to maintain that for 32 minutes.
Mansfield missed on the other end at the end of the shot clock but B-R couldn’t convert either. Goldberg hauled in the rebound – his fifth of the second half – and was fouled. He made both to put the Hornets up 41-35 with 20 seconds to play. B-R scored on the other end but Phil Vigeant (nine points, three rebounds), iced the game with two free throws with 11.7 seconds to play.
“I thought defensively they did a tremendous job of keeping us away from the hoop,” Vaughan said. “In the second half, I thought we did a better job of loosing them up and getting some back cuts scoring behind them. A couple times we didn’t score but we got fouls, which gave us opportunities late in the game to get to the line being in the bonus. Overall I was just happy with the focus, by both teams but more that we were able to maintain it for 32 minutes.”
Mansfield’s started the game with a terrific first possession, filled with plenty of ball movement and then a three from Vigeant. But that would be their last made three point until the final minutes of the game. The Hornets were just 1/9 from three point in the opening quarter.
However, Mansfield got an offensive boost from an unlikely source. Evan Christo, who had been one of the top defenders for the Hornets, came alive with four points and four rebounds in the opening quarter. Christo put Mansfield up 5-0 with a put back and then 9-4 with another late in the period.
He scored the opening basket of the second quarter and added a huge block in a one-on-one situation in the fourth quarter while Mansfield held on to a four point lead.
“He’s by far one of the most underrated players we’ve had here in terms of his contributions because he doesn’t score a lot of points night in and night out,” Vaughan said of Christo. “But talk about a big block, taking the guy one on one and then secured the rebound so it wasn’t a loose ball, it was our ball. Just the stuff he’s bringing to the table night and night out. He doesn’t need much praise to do it either. He’s just a tremendous young man who’s playing at a high level right now and defensively, he’s kind of our anchor right now.”
After taking a 16-15 lead into halftime, the Hornets fell behind twice in the third quarter, and even were tied with a minute to play in the third. However, John McCoy found Goldberg cutting to the basket and the senior drained two free throws to give the Hornets a four point lead (30-26) going into the fourth.
“We just had to stick to what we did well all year,” Goldberg said. “Shots weren’t falling but we had to just keep shooting and attacking the basket, get down hill. B-R did a great job of getting up on us so we utilized back door cuts and slips in the second half.
“They have a similar build that we do in that they’re athletic, medium sized guys. I thought our best strength defensively was being able to switch on everything. Being able to match their intensity and athleticism was huge for us.”
Goldberg scored nine of his 11 points and five of his 11 rebounds in the second half.
“I thought in the first half he was passive,” Vaughan said of the Hockomock League MVP. “When we came out of the locker room [at halftime] I told him this isn’t how you want to end your career. In the second half, I thought he did a better job of asserting himself on both ends, both offensively and defensively. Just a few points here and there, a couple of free throws, or a couple aggressive drives to the basket can swing a game like this either way. We just happened to be on the winning end.”
Mansfield boys basketball (23-2) advances to the D1 South Final to take on #3 Needham (19-4). It marks the fourth time since 2011 that the Hornets have reached the sectional final while this is Needham’s first ever appearance. The teams will square off on Friday at Taunton High. The time has yet to be announced by the MIAA.
MANSFIELD, Mass. – As the final seconds ticked off and Attleboro sealed its first round win against Brockton on Tuesday night, the Attleboro student section started a “We want Mansfield” chant, directed at the Hornets who had come to watch the game as a team. After two losses to the Hornets in the regular season, the Bombardiers believed that the third time would be the charm.
After three quarters of Thursday’s Div. 1 South quarterfinal in the Albertini Gym, it looked like Attleboro may just pull off the upset of the league champion and top seed. That was when Mansfield senior guard Jen Peelstarted to get going.
Peel scored eight of her team-high 14 points in the fourth, Mansfield’s final eight points of the game, and helped the Hornets gut out a 33-31 victory, earn a three-game sweep of the season series, and advance to the South final for the third season in a row.
“It’s always tougher the third time around,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “It’s funny, 33-31 and you say what an ugly game, but it was intense, it was well-played, just no easy shots. We each took each other’s best players away. I told them at one point that a four- or five-point lead is like a 15-point lead, if you get a two-possession lead you can win.”
With the Hornets trailing by three to start the fourth, Peel drew the defense and found an open Ann Maher for her second three of the game to tie it. On the next possession, Meg Hill tracked down the rebound of a wild three by Peel and then fed it to the guard who drove to the basket for a layup.
After Attleboro tied it with a layup by Sarah Deyo (five points, 14 rebounds), Peel used a pump fake to get her defender to fly by and drilled her second three of the night to make it 30-27. Following a hustle rebound by Deyo, Julia Strachan (14 points) answered with her fourth three of the night to tie the game again with 3:50 remaining.
Again it was Peel that had the response for the Hornets, getting around a double screen into the corner and drilling her third from beyond the arc for what turned out to be the game-winner.
“Im going to see Jen Peel in my nightmares,” Attleboro coach Rick Patch joked. “She’s a clutch player. She’s an MVP-player in this league and she really makes that team go. She wants the ball when the game’s on the line.”
Peel said, “They’re a great team, they’re great defenders, and I knew from the start they were going to be up in my face. I knew this game it wasn’t going to be as easy, so we just made sure our screens were strong and I got around them.”
Deyo made one of two from the line and Attleboro had several chances on drives to the basket but were not able to get the tying basket. With one last chance, the Bombardiers tried to get the ball into Deyo at half-court, but it was tipped by Hill and chased down by Mady Bendanillo to seal the win.
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“Our defense was brilliant for the most part,” said Patch, “and I think the girls just had a little bit of heart and they wanted to win and move on. We had our chances, we a bunch of layups at the end, but just couldn’t convert.”
Peel started the game with a deep three that prompted Attleboro to switch over to a triangle-and-two defense. After scoring four points, Hill picked up her second foul and sat for the rest of the half. Shortly after, Maher joined her on the bench as well, but Mansfield held the 9-4 lead after the first quarter.
With two key players on the bench, the Hornets went cold in the second, shooting 0-for-14 from the field and scoring only four points on 4-of-8 from the line.
Also, with Maher on the sidelines, Strachan got loose and found the range from deep. Strachan buried three from beyond the arc in the second and Jordyn Lako added a basket and an assist. The visitors led 17-13 at the half and Mansfield was looking for someone to knock down shots.
“All of a sudden you’re asking kids who haven’t taken a lot of shots all year to take big shots in a quarterfinal game,” said Redding of the struggles offensively for the Hornets against the Attleboro defense.
Stephanie Kemp hit a jumper to get the third quarter started, but Grace Mayer knocked down a three off a Deyo assist to extend the lead to five. It was the largest lead for either team in the second half.
Maher got free for a three-pointer and then Hill snagged an offensive rebound on the baseline and with the shot clock buzzer about to go off hit a 13-foot jumper that gave Mansfield the lead. Lako made sure it was short-lived, as she nailed a three on the other end to give Attleboro a slim lead heading to the fourth. She also scored on a layup to open the final quarter.
“She was excellent when it came right down to it,” said Patch of Lako. “She listened to what we were telling her and attacked the basket. Grace Mayer did a good job. We were just wearing Jen down…and did pretty good at it, but just not quite good enough.”
Peel came through with the points in the fourth to lift Mansfield to the win, but it was the other end of the floor that drew praise from her coach. Redding said, “She played 32 minutes and she played very good defense…Sometimes she takes some possessions off, but she played hard on the defensive end, got some big rebounds, gave us some great help.”
“I know it too, I’m not the best defender…I tend to think get the outlet and just run,” Peel joked. “I think our defense saved us in that first half and then we were just like, this is our home court, our gym, our game, let’s just show them that’s how we play.”
The loss ended a remarkable career for Deyo, who finishes as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,341 points. Despite being on crutches before the game, after suffering an injury against Brockton, she still managed to pull down 14 rebounds and block three shots against the Hornets.
“Sarah, just a gutsy effort on a badly sprained ankle,” said Redding. “She’s on crutches for two days and comes in and plays her heart out. I’m not going to miss defending her, but I’m going to miss watching her play. She plays as hard as anyone I’ve seen.”
Mansfield (19-2) will face No. 4 seed Wellesley in the semifinal at Massassoit Community College in Brockton at a date and time to be determined.
Six girls’ basketball teams will begin their quests for a state championship when the state tournament begins this week. League champions Mansfield (Div. 1 South) and Foxboro (Div. 2 South) both earned the top seed in their respective brackets, but neither will have an easy road with league rivals like Attleboro, Oliver Ames, and North Attleboro posing major threats to bringing home a trophy. Milford will also represent the league as the lone Hock team in Div. 2 Central.
As usual, Div. 1 South is a loaded bracket with some of the top programs in the state, including defending state champion Bishop Feehan and perennial powers Braintree and Newton North. Mansfield (18-2) earned the top seed in a coin flip with the Shamrocks, who beat the Hornets in an exclusion game during the regular season. More important than the seed, Mansfield will now avoid the Shamrocks, the Wamps, and the Tigers until the South final.
Led by senior guard Jen Peel and junior center Meg Hill, the Hornets like to slow the pace down and focus on strong defense, which held teams to a league-best 38.0 points per game. Mansfield is young this season, but deep and versatile and head coach Mike Redding’s squad should match up well against the teams on its side of the bracket, including potential semifinal opponents Wellesley or Marshfield (which Mansfield beat 52-47 in December).
In order for the Hornets to get to the semifinals, they may have to go through Kelley-Rex rival Attleboro (15-7), which claimed the No. 8 seed and will host Brockton (Attleboro beat the Boxers 63-55 in December). The Bombardiers have scuffled down the stretch, losing seven of its final 14 games of the regular season, but closed it out by putting 94 points up on Durfee in the season finale.
With seniors Sarah Deyo and Julia Strachan, Attleboro has a potent inside-out combo and has been one of the top offensive teams in the league this year, averaging a league-best 61.4 points per game. The issue for the Bombardiers will be trying to slow down Jen Peel and Mansfield in the quarterfinal, if they can get past a dangerous Brockton team in Tuesday’s playoff opener. Attleboro struggled in two losses to Mansfield in the regular season, but will be hoping third time is the charm to set up a potential rematch with Wellesley, which knocked the Bombardiers out of last year’s tournament.
Foxboro (18-2) has been on fire to close out the season, winning 12 in a row entering the playoffs, including a 20-point win over North Attleboro to claim the league title and an impressive overtime win over Lincoln-Sudbury in the end-of-season tournament. The Warriors will be led by league MVP Ashley Sampson, who scored 31 in that win over L-S and nailed a three-pointer that forced OT, but a strong supporting cast includes Lily Sykes and Grace Tamulionis. The scary part is that all three are juniors and will be back next winter as well.
The Warriors will not have an easy path in Div. 2 South, which is another loaded bracket, and will have to face one of the two finalists from 2016, either Hingham or Oliver Ames, in the quarterfinal and could potentially face the Rocketeers for a third time in the semifinal. Westwood, Nauset, and Falmouth, which knocked Foxboro out of the tournament last year, could wait in the sectional final.
Oliver Ames (13-7), the defending Div. 2 South champ, has had an up and down first season in the Kelley-Rex but managed to claim second in the division and is a sleeper to retain its South title. The Tigers will have a very difficult road to try and repeat with a trip to last year’s South finalist Hingham waiting in the first round and a potential meeting with Foxboro looming in the quarterfinal (the Warriors won the league meeting between the teams 51-35).
Kayla Raymond will be the focus of all of OA’s opponents, but trying to slow down the junior forward is easier said than done. If the Tigers can get support for Raymond from senior Niyera Mitchell and find consistent outside shooting, then OA will be a tough matchup. Losing sophomore guard Sadie Homer during the season and senior Francesca Calabraro prior to it has made things tougher but no one will take head coach Laney Clement-Holbrook’s team lightly.
North Attleboro (16-6) is another sleeper in Div. 2 South. Last year, the Rocketeers were knocked out in the first round by OA on a last second Raymond basket and could have made a similar run to the Tigers if they had made it through. This year, North comes in with six losses, but only one to a team in Div. 2 and that was the league final against Foxboro. Despite missing senior guard Ashley Ahern to injury, North earned an impressive come from behind win against Attleboro in the final week and has the potential to make a deep run this year.
The Rocketeers are loaded with experienced seniors, including forward Caroline Collard and guards Samantha Taggart and Emily Schromm, who have shown the ability to win close games against good teams this season. North beat Foxboro in the first meeting, beat Oliver Ames by one, and has also beaten potential tourney opponents Hingham and Westwood this year. North faces Madison Park to start and likely will face Duxbury in the quarterfinal to try and get a rubber match with Foxboro in the semifinal.
Milford (10-10) qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2012 and has shown immense progress in head coach T.J. Dolliver’s second season in charge. But, the Hawks have also struggled down the stretch, albeit against a tough stretch of league opponents including North Attleboro and Foxboro twice, OA, and Attleboro. The Hawks will be in Div. 2 Central and will likely face Marlboro in the playoff opener, which is a team similar to the Hawks that shoots a lot of threes and does not have a true post presence.
The Hawks will be counting on a big game from junior guard Kate Irwin, who has been among the league’s top scorers this season, but Milford has a lot of versatile players that can cause teams problems on the perimeter and in the paint, including senior Nicole Dahlgren. If the Hawks do get through the first round, then they will travel to No. 3 seed Groton-Dunstable and could face a couple of Eastern Mass. transplants in Hopkinton and Medfield.