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.