Meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Tigers of Newton North played about as good as they could have hoped, combining eight made three-pointers with 14 Hornet turnovers for a 40-24 lead at halftime.
But there was no quit in the Hornets. Mansfield dominated the third quarter, making it a two-point contest — anyone’s game — with eight minutes left to go in the game.
The Tigers stood tall, though, never surrendering the lead and coming up with answer after answer to come away with a 74-64 victory, claiming the program’s first sectional title since 2006.
“I thought we did a good job disrupting them and taking stuff away,” said Newton North coach Paul Connolly. “We knew they’d have a run, and they had a huge run and came right at us. We responded, we made baskets when we needed them. We regained our poise (at the end).
”They are such a prolific offensive team, they really dissect people. We really worked on not allowing them to do what they do, to try and disrupt and take things away. They still scored 64 points. I told the guys at halftime Mansfield plays for 32 minutes. Even at the end, in the final seconds…they can score 10 points in their sleep.”
Mansfield looked like a completely different team in the third quarter, ramping up the aggressiveness and attacking the basket with a purpose. And on the defensive end, the Hornets played with a renewed sense of purpose that limited the Tigers to just seven points in the eight-minute stretch.
The surge mostly came over the final three minutes of the third. The defense limited Newton North to just three points over the first five minutes, but the Hornets were still trailing by double-digits, 45-34, with under three to go.
Sophomore Matt Boen (13 points, eight rebounds, five assists) hit a three-pointer and Damani Scott (17 points, six rebounds) came up with a steal that led to two free throws. The Hornets sandwiched a pair of stops around a free throw from Jack Mousette, and then junior Sam Stevens (14 points, four rebounds) drained a triple to make it a three-point game, down 46-43 with just under a minute to go.
Newton North added a free throw but Tommy Dooling (10 points) finished a contested layup at the buzzer to bring the Hornets — once down 19 points in the first half — within two, 47-45, entering the final quarter.
“Just play harder,” said Mansfield coach Mike Vaughan of what went into the third quarter turnaround. “I told the guys at halftime we’re going to come out and play hard defense, move the ball with our 50 action, we’re not calling quick hitters, we’re not having personnel on certain kids. And it worked. Hindsight, we probably should have done that from the start, but we’re a little more of a finesse team and like to get out in space and trick teams a little bit. They did such a good job preparing for us, we weren’t going to out-trick them tonight. We needed to be more aggressive.”
Unfortunately, the momentum didn’t carry over right away in the fourth quarter. The Hornets reverted to the bad habits of the first half, mainly turnovers.
Mansfield committed four turnovers in the opening two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter. After Newton North’s Kyle Ray-Canada (28 points) opened the quarter with the three, Mansfield missed a three and then was whistled for back-to-back offensive fouls after getting stops.
Khalil Lofton came up with a steal for an easy layup for the Tigers, the Hornets missed a triple, and Ray-Canada finished at the rim to cap a quick 7-0 spurt that gave Newton North breathing room up 54-45.
The Hornets once again made a push to get back in it. Dooling sank two free throws, Drew Rooney added another, and Boen, playing with an injured wrist, used a nice fake and lay-in for two to make it 56-52 with just over three minutes to go.
But Canada-Ray earned a trip to the line for two on back-to-back possessions, the Hornets had another turnover, and Lofton sank two more free throws to push the lead to 62-52 with two minutes left.
“It was everything going back to passive, reverting to what we were back in the first half instead of being aggressive,” Vaughan said. “Paul is one of the best [coaches] for a reason. There were times when we cut it to like four, where maybe in some other games, they made not have had an answer. But Paul had something drawn up, he had the right play, he had the right switch, and you can only do that when you’re at his level. He had answers for everything we did, hats off to how he coached and how his kids responded.”
Newton North had a terrific fourth quarter, taking advantage of some forced and some uncharacteristic Hornet turnovers. Mansfield gave the ball away nine times, and the Tigers hit nine field goals, include three from three-point range to race out to a 21-9 lead through eight minutes.
“They were very aggressive, they made us play 23-feet away from the hoop and they never really let us get comfortable,” Vaughan said. “It seemed like every pass we threw, every cut we made, every action we did, they were sitting there waiting for us. When the physicality is allowed that much, and we’re not matching it, it makes it a real grind it out first half.”
The Tigers’ three-point shooting only improved in the second quarter. Newton North connected on five more triples, including one from Ray-Canada with under a minute to go to push the lead to 40-21. Boen gave Mansfield some life with a late three and block on the final shot to make it 40-24 at halftime.
“I thought us playing from behind could create some nerves,” Vaughan said. “In the third quarter, we took the pressure off of thinking and just let them go out and play. I think it made the game so much easier for them, and you can only do that for so long and for so often. We almost were just kind of trying to play pick up and let the game freely go.
“I was happy with our young guys played. I thought Damani and Tommy played their hearts out, what more can you ask of them? In the end, I think the team that was a little more prepared, playing a little more hungry and with more effort won the game tonight.”
Mansfield boys basketball finishes the season at 22-5.
LOWELL, Mass. – It is a long trip from Taunton up to Martin Field in Lowell through late afternoon traffic, but the Tigers apparently arrived on their coach bus ready to go for Tuesday night’s state semifinal.
Taunton scored six runs in the opening two innings, Kelsey White had a perfect game into the fifth and allowed only five hits, and the Tigers ended an 11-year wait to get back to the state championship game with a 6-1 win over North champion Newton North.
“It doesn’t even feel real,” said junior Jaime Brown, a four-year starter for the Tigers, about having the chance to play for a state championship. “We’ve worked so hard and it’s just falling at our feet. It’s crazy, but it just feels so good.”
White was masterful in the circle again for Taunton. Just a freshman, experiencing the postseason stage for the first time, White has not been awed by the moment and she retired the first 12 batters that she faced on Tuesday before Mia Bueno singled to lead-off the fifth.
“She pitches real tough,” Taunton coach Dave Lewry said of White. “She had everything going today, all her pitches, she was hitting her spots. I know they can hit, I know they can put the ball in play, but I’ve got to give all the credit to Kelsey. She just did a fabulous job for us.”
White admitted, “I was very nervous at first but going out there and knowing that I have the best defense behind me makes me more comfortable.” She also got help from Brown and the other upperclassmen. She said, “They pick me up every time I get down and make sure I go and get the next batter.”
Taunton helped out its freshman pitcher with some early runs. The Tigers have been strong with two outs in the postseason and they managed to rally again in the first. Kya Enos lined a single through the hole on the left side for a two-out baserunner. The senior catcher stole second and then came around to score the opening run on a base hit by classmate Mackenzie Handrahan.
The Tigers broke the game wide open in the second. This time they did not wait until there were two outs to get started, instead scoring six times before committing one.
Kelsey White was hit by a pitch to lead off and her older sister Alexa White followed by drawing a nine-pitch walk. Paige Silvia dropped down a bunt and White hustled into third to beat the throw and load the bases. The hero from the South final, sophomore Rylie Murphy, brought in the first run with a grounder to the left side, reaching on a fielder’s choice to keep the bases full.
Brown, Taunton’s lead-off hitter, emptied the bases, drilling a pitch into the gap in left-center for a triple that scored three. The throw to third bounced off Brown and to the fence in front of the Tigers’ dugout, allowing her to come home too.
“That’s always across you mind, you want the big hit, but honestly I was just looking for a single to bring a run in and chip away and getting them all in was just a bonus,” said Brown.
Lewry added, “That puts a lot of pressure on the other team. They can’t play for one run, they’ve got to be swinging the bats and I don’t think that’s their game. They like to bunt and run and get runs here or there. That was a key for us.”
The Tigers also threatened in the third and seemed to have Newton North on the ropes. Alexa White singled to start the inning and moved into scoring position on a Silvia sac bunt. Murphy singled to left to put two on and was pinch-run for by Abbie McDonough, who promptly stole second.
Newton North pitcher Mia Patriacca got Brown and Liana Duarte looking to escape the jam. Taunton did not put another batter on base, as Patriacca retired the final 11 hitters she faced.
“We kind of deflated after that and never got back to hitting the ball,” Lewry explained. “I think that kind of took our momentum away from us. They let up a little with a six-run lead, but we did what we had to do.”
Newton North finally got something going in the fifth. Bueno singled to left to start the inning, the first baserunner of the night for the North champs. Kira Flegenheimer followed with a single but was forced at second on a grounder to Hanna Aldrich. With runners at the corners, Ciara Gillen hit a weak fly ball into shallow right field that dropped just in front of McDonough and allowed the run to score.
White needed to bear down, as momentum seemed to be shifting to the suddenly loud visiting side. She got a grounder to second and then a strikeout to end the inning and preserve a five-run lead.
“They got runners on base,” White said, “but I knew we just had to get the outs and not worry about them. We just needed to get all the outs that we could.”
“Is she only a freshman?” Lewry joked. “She doesn’t act like it, I’ll tell you that. She is the calmest, coolest, most collected person on the mound that we’ve had in a long, long time. She didn’t fall apart at all, she stuck with it, threw her pitches and got us out of it.”
The visitors got a one-out hit in the sixth, but Brown made a nice play on the run to field a short grounder down the third base line and White showed her ability to field her position as she managed to move to her left to snag a tricky grounder.
In the seventh, Newton North again got a one-out hit to put the pressure on Taunton, but White induced a grounder to her sister at second to force the lead runner and then struck out the final batter looking to set off another raucous celebration.
“It’s the best experience,” said White. “It’s very nerve-wracking, but it’s the best experience. I’m very happy for [the seniors] and all I want it for is them and the team.”
Lewry was asked if he was surprised at all to see the Tigers in this position of playing for a state championship. He replied, “I envisioned this team being capable of being in this position, so I’m not surprised by it. It’s not an easy road, of course, but there’s a lot of talent here and I think the heart has shown through. Especially in the tournament, they’re in it for each other and that really makes a huge difference.”
Taunton (25-2) will face the Central champ Wachusett in the state title game at Worcester State on Saturday at 6:00. Wachusett (much like Newton North in the semifinal) was also at this stage last year and lost to Milford in the championship game.
Fast forward nearly two months and those Hornets are now clicking on all cylinders, the proof being a dominant 70-50 win over #4 Newton North.
With the win, Mansfield returns to the D1 South Sectional Final for the second straight year, the third time in the past four years, and fourth time in the past six seasons.
“I was concerned, I was really concerned where we would fit in the South, considering the South was loaded this year,” Vaughan said. “There are eight teams that if they were to win the South no one would be surprised, it’s a loaded field. We are playing good at the right time, other teams are playing good as well. We’re going to continue to do what we do and hopefully try to find a way to get one more against either Brockton or Needham.”
The Hornets haven’t lost since that game at Franklin High, rattling off 17 straight wins including victories over Hanover (defending D3 state champions and current D2 South semifinalists), Cardinal Spellman, Taunton, Brockton, and Newton South. Mansfield also avenged its lone two losses in that span, comfortably beating both Franklin and just last week, BC High.
The winning ways continued on Monday night at Taunton High as the Hornets beat Newton North for the second time this season.
Senior John McCoy took over in the second half, scoring 18 of his game-high 25 points after halftime, junior Damani Scott was nearly unstoppable on the offensive end with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and senior Sam Hyland spearheaded an impressive Hornet defensive effort the resulted in Ethan Wright – arguably the best player in the state – scoring just nine points, three of which came in the fourth with the game in hand.
“We had to throw everything we had at him,” Vaughan said of defending Wright. Wright scored 32 points in the first meeting back in December. He was held to just nine points on 4-for-10 shooting on Monday night.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve seen play at the MIAA level. He’s a tremendous kid, tremendous athlete, tremendous competitor. Our goal early was to try to take him out of his rhythm, and I thought we did a good job doing that. It’s just a matter of grinding through possessions, limiting his touches, and contest what he has opportunities. I thought Sammy was tremendous playing him and I thought I help defense was good making sure he didn’t get easy and clean looks. He’s a very special player and we just do everything we had at him.”
The Hornets got off to a strong start on both ends of the court. While limiting the high power Tigers’ offense from getting going, Mansfield began to establish itself on the offensive end. Tyler Boulter (11 points) hit an early three and had a strong take to the basket, Scott turned a pair of offensive rebounds — one his own, another from Ryan Otto — into four points, and McCoy added four of his own for a 15-6 lead after one.
Scott became the focal point of the offense in the second quarter. He opened the scoring for the Hornets with a traditional three-point play and got by his defender for two right after Newton North had answered.
“I didn’t feel good at the shootaround today so I didn’t expect this at all,” Scott said. “With Johnny and Tyler and all the guys I try to ease my way in and score when I can. And having Johnny, it makes it easier for me to get into a rhythm because he’s there if I miss. When I get into a rhythm it really gets me going.”
McCoy hit another three and Scott continued to find success at the rim with four straight points, helping Mansfield take a 31-18 lead at the break.
“He played as good as you could,” Vaughan said of Scott. “He’s engaged on defense, you can’t ask for a kid to play a better game at this point in his career. It was nice to see, he kind of helps us weather the first half when we weren’t as comfortable as it may have seemed. He had to go make some plays for us, and made some tough ones. He made the difference of us having a lead and as we talked about before, when we have a lead, we are more difficult [to beat] because all of our stuff works. When we’re playing from behind, it’s difficult for some of our stuff to work so it played to our advantage tonight.”
Scott scored on the first possession of the second half but picked up two quick fouls on the defensive end, forcing him to the bench. With their top scorer in the game on the bench, the offense switched gears and McCoy took over.
Tom Andreae (11 points) cut the deficit to single digits for Newton North but McCoy responded with a traditional three-point play on the other end. After a turnover, McCoy once again attacked the basket, resulting in another three-point play and a 41-26 advantage.
Boulter and Newton North’s Aaron Cooley traded baskets but McCoy couldn’t be stopped. He once again drew contact at the rim, finishing off yet another three-point play for a 46-28 lead.
Wright came up with a Mansfield turnover and tried to inject some life into the Hornets with a two-handed slam on the fast break, but the Hornets quickly got the ball up court for an easy two from McCoy, preventing Newton North from building any momentum.
“Part of our game plan offensively was to pick our spots when we thought we could get downhill,” Vaughan said. “They are a really good contest team, one of their focuses is to defend the three-point line which sacrifices helping. I thought we had some matchups with Damani, who play tremendous, and Johnny in the second half. Johnny answered my call at halftime. He needed to be better and he was, he was tremendous, that’s why he was league MVP because of the performance he put on in the second half.”
McCoy opened the fourth quarter in familiar fashion, taking advantage of a Tiger turnover and then driving to the basket for two points plus the harm – he hit the free throw for his fourth three-point play of the half.
“It was definitely nice to see the ball go through the hoop finally,” McCoy said after scoring eight points through the first two playoff games. “I kind of struggled the past two games, but my coaches and teammates told me to just stick with it and keep shooting, and it worked out tonight.
“Once we get to the hoop it opens things up for the shooting. When we get to the hoop our offense really gets in motion and everything starts to go down.”
After Scott hit a three, Newton North amped its defensive pressure up with a press, resulting in four quick points but after each team traded turnovers, McCoy sank a triple that wrapped the game up. Mansfield led 59-42 with five minutes to play.
Mansfield boys basketball (24-4) will take on either Needham (19-3) or Brockton (19-3) in the D1 South Final. If the Rockets beat Brockton, it will be a rematch of last year’s final (Needham won, 65-56). If the Boxers ground the Rockets, it will be a rematch of regular season matchup that Mansfield won 69-64. The game will be at Taunton High with the date and time still to be determined.
Newton North rattled off a quick 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, cutting Mansfield’s lead to just two points, 54-52 with just over three minutes to go.
But after a timeout, the Hornets delivered during the most important stretch of the game, putting together a 6-0 run over the next two minutes and never looked back in a 71-62 win over the visiting Tigers.
“I thought we did a really good job having key possessions when they got it close,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan. “That was a big stretch there. If that goes the other way, we could be playing from behind.”
Junior Tommy Dooling (13 points) drained a three with 4:43 to play to give the Hornets a nine-point lead, but it took just over a minute for the Tigers to get back within two.
Aaron Cooley hit two free throws, Noah Neville hit the second of two free throws, and Ethan Wright (32 points) hit a mid-range jumper to bring Newton North within four. After forcing a Mansfield turnover, Neville converted at the rim to make it 54-52, forcing Vaughan to call a timeout.
The Hornets executed right out of the timeout, as senior Sam Hyland drove around his defender for a layup. John McCoy (22 points, nine rebounds) hit one free throw on the offensive end, and the defense forced Wright into a turnover.
McCoy went back to the line after being fouled, but after missing both shots, junior Damani Scott (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists) pulled down the rebound and converted the putback while being fouled. His free throw completed the traditional three-point play but the Hornets up 60-52 with two minutes to play.
When Newton North answered with two free throws of their own, Scott drove the lane for a bucket to keep the eight-point cushion.
The Tigers got within three with just under a minute to play when Wright drained his first three of the game, but Justin Vine hauled in a defensive rebound after a missed free throw from Newton North, and went down and sank two of his own to make it 65-60.
McCoy hit six straight free throws to close the game out.
“We just found a way to come down and have a good possession and have a big basket,” Vaughan said of holding onto the lead. “A couple of different people contributed. I think the quiet story was Hyland’s defense tonight. Wright got his points but it took him a lot to do it. [Wright] is a tremendous player, but I thought Sammy did a really good job of how difficult he made it for him.”
The only time the Hornets trailed was after surrendering the game’s opening basket. After that, Mansfield rattled off an 11-0 run over the next two minutes. A traditional three-point play from McCoy preceded a strong take to the hoop from the senior, Dooling drove to the basket for two, Ryan Otto (nine points) converted a putback, and McCoy capped the run with two free throws.
An early steal and dunk from Khristian Conner (eight points) put the Hornets up 10 (22-12), a lead that they kept for the majority of the first half. A mini 4-0 run over the final 13 seconds of the half brought the Tigers within six, 35-29, at the break.
Both offenses struggled in the third quarter, combining for just 18 points. Newton North scored 11 of them, making it a two-point game (42-40) heading into the final frame. The teams were called for a combined 13 fouls in the eight minutes, limiting either side from getting into a rhythm.
After the Hornets had gone just 1-for-12 from three-point range through the first three quarters, they got two of their biggest shots of the game in the first two minutes of the final frame.
After Sam Hyland swiped away an offensive board from Wright, Otto drained his first triple of the game it made it 45-40. A minute later, Otto didn’t hesitate after getting a pass from McCoy and hit another three to put Mansfield up 48-42.
“Ryan Otto had two big threes in the third, Damani getting the putback was a big possession, so I thought a couple of guys stepped up,” Vaughan said. “I thought Johnny played pretty consistent throughout, you could kind of tell his basketball legs caught up with him a little bit.”
Mansfield boys basketball (3-0 Hockomock, 4-0 overall) has a week off before it welcomes BC High to town on Thursday, December 28th at 7:15. Newton North drops to 1-2 overall.
TAUNTON, Mass. – On Saturday afternoon, Milford played a near perfect game to hand Silver Lake its first loss of the season and win the Div. 1 South title. On Tuesday night in the state semifinal, back at Taunton High’s Jack Tripp Field, the Hawks showed that even when not at their best, they have enough grit to come out on top.
Despite Newton North putting runners in scoring position in five of the seven innings, Milford escaped unscathed each time and scored a pair of unearned runs to grind out a 3-0 victory and advance to the state championship game for the first time since winning the Div. 1 title four years ago.
“It’s great to know that maybe the bats aren’t at their best and our defense at times wasn’t at its best and Ali [Atherton] in a couple of innings maybe wasn’t at her best, but when push came to shove, man did they step up,” said Milford coach Steve DiVitto, who joined the program along with this senior class and will be making his first state final appearance this weekend.
Atherton, the senior pitcher, tossed a one-hitter in the South final against the Lakers, but the Tigers beat that total in the top of the first. With runners at second and third and two outs, Atherton struck out her opposite number Madison Schaefer to get out of the jam.
The Hawks took the lead in their first at-bats. Emily Piergustavo drew a one-out walk, followed by a Maggie Farrell single to right. Jess Tomaso lined a single to right that brought in the opening run and moved Farrell to third. Schaefer avoided a big inning by getting a bouncing ball right back to her and a strikeout to end the threat.
The Tigers put the lead-off runner on in the second on a rare Milford error. After a strikeout and a sliding catch by centerfielder Kate Irwin on a sinking line drive, the Tigers loaded the bases with back-to-back singles. Again, Atherton was able to bear down and get a fly ball to end the inning.
Milford doubled its lead in the bottom of the second. Maddy Bonvino drew a one-out walk and, after a fly ball out, stole second to get into scoring position for Irwin. The junior lead-off hitter singled to center and the ball bounced by the fielder to allow Bonvino to score easily.
“It’s nice to be in the lead,” DiVitto said. “It’s better than the other way around because the nerves settled in a little bit and it was big for our girls to get those runs early. But, we’ve been behind a couple times this year and been able to battle back, so ahead, behind, they just have a great mindset.”
Atherton settled down with the lead and allowed only one hit over the next three innings. The Hawks added a crucial insurance run in the fifth. Irwin reached on an error and stole second. Piergustavo popped it up in foul territory near the Tigers bench and, after making the grab, the first baseman attempted to pick off Irwin at second, but the throw got away.
Irwin flew home with the third run and her energy fired up both her teammates and the traveling Milford support in the bleachers.
“She was huge for us tonight,” said DiVitto of Irwin. “That play at second base, we work on that all year. Take a couple jab steps and force a throw and she forced a throw and that’s a huge insurance run going into the seventh inning; 3-0 is a big change from two.”
Holding a three-run lead in the seventh, Milford had one foot in the state final, but the Tigers would not go quietly.
With one out, Holly Chin singled and an error brought the tying run to the plate. Atherton reached back for a little extra to get a strikeout, but then walked the next hitter to load the bases and bring a potential go-ahead run up to bat. With the Tigers faithful as loud as they had been all night, Atherton induced a comebacker to put an end to the rally.
When asked what he was thinking as the Tigers loaded the bases, DiVitto responded, “Ali was going to find a way to get three outs. I have a lot of confidence in her. Four years of her in the circle, she is a warrior and she has been for four years.”
He added, “That’s what a winner does. That’s what a girl who’s got guts does. [Ali] was great on Saturday, no girls on base, she was cruising. Tonight she ran into a little trouble but the same demeanor on the mound. She was locked in.”
The Hawks have had a target on their backs since the beginning of the season, as they entered as heavy favorites in the Davenport division and as one of the favorites in Div. 1 South. DiVitto tried to explain what carried the Hawks to this point.
He said, “These girls play for each other and they’re excited for each other. Whenever anything happens with their teammates, they’re excited for them. A girl could go 0-for-4 but still be excited we won and that’s big.”
Milford (24-1), riding a 24-game win streak, will face Central champion Wachusett on Saturday at Worcester State University (time to be determined).