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.