That quest started on Tuesday for the Hornets, the second-seed out of the Kelley-Rex division, with a very business-like performance in the form of a 2-0 win over Foxboro, the Davenport’s third-place club.
The Hornets spent most of the 80 minutes pushing the ball up field, putting a lot of pressure on Foxboro’s back four with services into the area. Almost every restart from the attacking half turned into a long back into the box, putting a lot of stress on the Warrior defense.
Not only did it result in a pair of goals and a dozen more chances, but it also helped prevent the Warriors from building anything out of the back. The high pressure would often force a big clearance out of the back that the Hornets would collect and put right back into the mix in the final third.
“We should have had about 10 goals but we just didn’t finish,” said Mansfield head coach Steve Sheridan. “But we put the pressure on them…we did what we practiced except for the finishing. I expected us to play that way, been expecting it for a while, we finally did it today when it counts. I expect a tight game, I expected it to be maybe a little more chippy. But it was a good game I’m happy with it.”
It took Mansfield less than two minutes to get on the front foot with a good bid on goal. Dylan Buchanan did well to take down a long ball, touch around a defender and blasted a left-footed shot that was denied on a good saver from Nick Penders, tipping the shot over the bar.
The chances continued to come for the hosts, sophomore Grady Sullivan with a bid in the 12th minute and junior Matt Hyland had his cross-turned-shot scooped up by Penders two minutes later. A nice combo from Sagar Koul and Buchanan led to a shot by the former, but wide, in the 25th minute. And a minute later, Aidan Steele latched onto a turnover and looped the ball over a defender but Penders was quick off his line.
Foxboro found its footing a bit as it built out of the back from Penders. Max Beigel found some space along the right-wing before centering to Matt Angelini, but his low shot from distances was gobbled up by Mansfield keeper Eric Sullivan.
The Hornets came very close in the 29th minute, a service from Tommy Lanzillo on a corner found Koul alone in front but the close-range bid was over the bar.
But just before the halftime whistle, Mansfield finally cashed in. After the Warriors were able to counter, the Hornets came right back up field on a counter of their own, taking advantage of space in the final third.
Starting with Sullivan, the Hornets pushed forward before Lanzillo collected possession just over half, quickly turning and finding Hyland streaking in alone down the left side. After taking a touch, Hyland deposited a shot inside the near post past the oncoming keeper for a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
“I don’t think [Mansfield] did anything special to stop us, we started in a 4-3-2-1 which isn’t conducive to hold the ball a lot, we were looking to counter,” said first-year Foxboro coach Dan Ambrosio. “I think my boys were a little intimidated, [Mansfield] is a bit bigger, more physical, faster…and they are really organized in the back.
“With the way they play, you kind of have to put defense first and it’s not the prettiest game to watch. It’s effective in a way in this situation, and it’s been their style for years. It’s just one of those things, you try to pack it in to respond to their style of play.”
The second half started just as the first did, Mansfield’s pressure paying off as Michael Caridi intercepted a pass out of the back, found Hyland out wide for a cross to Steele but Foxboro’s Justin Neale, who alongside his brother Jeremy had standout games at outside back, was quick to recover to thwart the chance.
Mansfield kept at it and quickly added a second goal. A kick in on the far side from Ethan Scholes was played low into the area, taking a pair of deflections right to the feet of Lanzillo, who was by himself at the far post. He quickly put the ball on his right foot and blasted a low shot out of the reach of Penders to make it 2-0.
“That’s one of the main reasons we’re playing with so much pressure, we don’t want to let them out,” Sheridan said. “I hadn’t seen tape on them this year, but I was told they like to get the ball to [Matt Angelini] and [Max Beigel] and play through them, play one on one. I’ll take almost anyone in this league one-on-one with our goals. We didn’t want them to get the ball to them.”
Foxboro had a couple of attempts to get back into the mix but couldn’t get one past Sullivan. Junior Cam Barreira looped a shot that was caught by Sullivan just under the bar in the 58th minute, and then Foxboro’s best chance — an indirect kick inches from the penalty spot — was blocked away by Evan Eames as the Hornets loaded in front of goal with bodies to prevent a shot on goal.
Mansfield advances to the semifinal round of the Hockomock Cup and will renew acquaintances with a familiar foe in Oliver Ames. The Tigers, who ran through the competition in the Davenport division and sit at 11-0, were Mansfield’s main competition for the Kelley-Rex title for the past four seasons.
“I’m excited to see them play,” Sheridan said. “I’ve watched them afar for the last year, I saw them play indoors down in Weymouth. There’s a level of excitement that comes with playing them, we have one shot at it. This is it for us, hopefully we can make it a good game.”
The Hornet and Tigers will clash at Muscato Stadium in Easton later this week with a date and time yet to be announced. Foxboro will play a consolation game against Franklin this week as well.