ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Coming into Tuesday night’s game, unbeaten Attleboro was averaging more than 70 points per game, which was the highest scoring total of any basketball team in the Hockomock (male or female). Meanwhile, Mansfield was unbeaten on the back of a stingy defense that was allowing opponents only 40 points per game.
It was a battle of contrasts and a battle of two teams that had developed a rivalry over the course of last year’s Kelley-Rex title race, which came down to the final night of the regular season. The intensity was high on and off the court on Tuesday and it felt like the playoffs not a game from the first half of the season.
The Bombardiers will be thankful that there are still 11 league games left to play, including a rematch in the Albertini Gym on Feb. 6, because this night belonged to the Hornets. Behind 22 points and five steals from senior Jen Peel and a stifling defense that limited Attleboro to two made field goals in the first half, Mansfield rolled to a 61-30 victory that gives the Hornets an early edge in their quest to repeat as league champs.
“This win was one of the most important wins that we’re going to have to get,” said Peel. “It sets the tone for the rest of the league, gives us the top spot for league champs and when we get them again it’s going to be a huge game.”
Mansfield coach Mike Redding added, “It was our night. Everything went our way. When you’re shooting threes off the backboard when you don’t mean them to it’s a sign that it’s going to be a good night.”
Sophomore Maggie Danehy got things started with a layup that was answered by a basket for Jordyn Lako (on an assist by Mish Logie), but then Mansfield took control with a 14-0 run. Peel knocked down a pair of threes, including one that caromed off the glass, and scored eight points in the first. Ann Maher (15 points) banked in the first of her five threes on the night and Mady Bendanillo (eight points, eight rebounds, five assists) buried one from the corner.
Logie hit a three off a Sam Pierce assist to close the quarter but the Bombardiers found themselves in an 18-7 hole and with the ‘Big Three’ of Sarah Deyo, Julia Strachan, and Pierce held to only two free throws.
“You have to give Mansfield all the credit,” said Attleboro coach Rick Patch. “They were the better prepared team, they were the tougher team, and they beat us in the categories we usually win, which is defense, rebound, hustle, and they really took us out of it.”
The Hornets continued the defensive pressure in the second, holding Attleboro to six points (all from the free throw line). Mansfield went into halftime holding a 28-13 lead and the Bombardiers looked stunned.
In Mansfield’s season opener, Maher (with help off the bench from Kara Bendanillo) held Foxboro star Ashley Sampson scoreless and on Tuesday she put in a similar effort on Strachan (seven points), who came in averaging more than 20 per game.
“She’s not really our most athletic player but she’s one of our smartest kids,” said Redding of Maher. “She always had good position, stayed tight, didn’t let her go to her right, and we didn’t give her very many open threes at all.”
In the third quarter, Attleboro tried to make a concerted effort to get the ball to Deyo (12 points, 12 rebounds), who would score seven in the period but she was having a difficult time getting good looks in the paint against Meg Hill (six points, six rebounds, four blocks). Strachan scored five in the quarter, but the Bombardiers could not piece together the possessions it needed to make a run.
Redding explained, “Bottom line, I thought we played really good man-to-man defense.”
Peel added six points in the third (four from the line), Maher knocked down another three, and Mady Bendanillo scored off a defensive rebound that she took the length of the court for a layup.
“She’s just so fast off the dribble and creates so much,” said Redding of Bendanillo. “She’s finding the right people, getting steals and we sub her out but I don’t think we need to. She could probably play a full 32 minutes.”
Mansfield won the third quarter, which Redding said was the focus coming out of halftime, and then put the game away with a 16-0 run to start the fourth with Peel and Maher each knocking down a pair of threes.
“Every quarter we came out, I said play like we did in the first quarter, with the same intensity,” Peel explained. “If we let down even a little bit that’s when Attleboro makes those shots that changes the game and we did a great job of shutting them down.”
Redding said, “We’re deeper. I think they’re big three got a little tired as the game went on. That was a big emphasis pregame that our bench would make a difference tonight.”
He continued, “Everyone stepped up…It was just everything we could’ve hoped for in 32 minutes.”
When asked if it was better to get a game like this out of the system early in the season rather than late, Patch responded, “Every year, in every sport, a team has a game where nothing goes right. It’s never a good time to have it…We had a really flat practice yesterday and it carried over.”