SHARON, Mass. – As his team met in the hallway prior to Monday night’s Hock Cup quarterfinal, first-year Mansfield coach Mark Ledwich had a sense that the players were ready to build on the momentum of four wins in the final six games of the regular season and put in a good performance.
The Hornets did just that, sweeping Sharon 3-0 (25-10, 25-17, 25-18). Mansfield didn’t trail at any point against the Davenport division runners up, earning the impressive road win and booking a spot in the semifinal.
“Going into the game, we knew that if we could serve spots it would lead them in directions that would really help our defense,” Ledwich explained, “and all we did was practice where we needed to sit on defense to make that happen. It was a great game by all the kids to go out there and do their jobs.”
Sharon has not had much experience with a playoff atmosphere, even one with a limited crowd, and the Eagles looked a little tentative out of the gates. Mansfield jumped out to a 10-3 lead, then doubled it to go up 20-6 as the Eagles struggled with unforced errors.
“Someone used the term high-stakes game before the game and I think they were a little bit nervous about that,” said Sharon coach Andrea Lovett. “A lot of people were playing against people they play with in club a lot and their club coach, which also makes them a little nervous. They just didn’t execute the way they needed to. It was all fundamentals.”
Mansfield also looked strong at the net, setting a pattern for the game, as the front line dominated on both offense and defense. Sharon’s leading hitter Sara Fandel found it difficult to get into a rhythm against the blocking of Ashley and Nicole Santos, Kacey Veiking, and Alina Nowakowski.
Veiking had an early kill followed by back-to-back swings from Olivia McGrath, who also added a block and ace during the first set. Yvette Nau had an ace and Leah Fandel added a kill from her middle position but Ashley Santos followed with a kill to end any chance of the hosts going on a run. Nowakowski and Santos went back-to-back with kills to end the first.
“One of the things we said was that whatever happened we had to play at our energy,” said Ledwich. “Although we have restrictions for fans, our bench brings it and makes it feel like every one of our games is a home game.”
The Eagles tried to regroup between sets, but again the Hornets came out flying. Mansfield scored the first six points of the second, behind McGrath’s strong service game. Three times Sharon would battle back within one, but each time Mansfield grabbed a crucial point to make sure it stayed in front.
After Sharon cut the lead to 11-10, McGrath scored with a well-placed tip and setter Christina Lydon scored with a quick leap and spike. Sara Fandel finally got free for a blast to make it 21-14, but Nowakowski continued to find the right angle on the outside and scored with consecutive swings. Nicole Santos added a kill in the middle and the Hornets were up 2-0 with a chance to seal the match.
Sharon needed to get off to a good start in the third, but it was the Hornets that scored the first three points and got to play from in front yet again.
Lovett said, “I’ve noticed a trend for us in the last few matches that we get down a little bit and then sort of kick in and this wasn’t a team that we could kick in against.”
The Eagles kept battling. Brynne Aidlin-Pearlman had an ace and Fandel a kill, but McGrath was proving tough to stop and Santos had a big block for an 8-5 lead. Like the second set, the Eagles were able to get within a point but couldn’t get over the hump.
“They’re good blockers and I don’t think our hitters took advantage of their knowledge and ability to hit around them, over them, mix things up,” said Lovett. “I was saying in the huddle that you can’t just pound it into their hands, you’ve got to figure something out. We didn’t adapt well.”
Down 16-15, the Eagles saw a shot drop long. It would be as close as they could get. Nowakowski followed with an ace and McGrath fired one off the block for a point. Veiking knocked one off the blockers’ hands and McGrath closed out the match with another ace.
Mansfield (6-5) will now get its third shot at co-champ Franklin in the semifinal on Wednesday. Ledwich said, “We have yet to play Franklin at full strength. We are where we need to be and a full strength Mansfield looks like this and we’re ready to come back at Franklin. Third one’s the charm.”
Sharon (8-3) will host North Attleboro in the consolation round to close out one of its most successful seasons in years.
CANTON, Mass. – With leading rusher Cam Sanchez sidelined with an injury and facing a short week ahead of Thursday night’s visit from Sharon at WWII Veterans Memorial Field, Canton was searching for different ways of getting into the end zone.
For the first time this season, the Bulldogs found success in the passing game. Canton threw a pair of first half touchdowns, including one on a halfback pass by Jack Albert, and leaned on its defense during a scoreless second half to pull out a 17-6 win over the Eagles that moves the Bulldogs back to .500 on the season.
“We’re trying to find ways to replace Cam Sanchez, and it’s a difficult thing to do when you have someone that dynamic,” admitted Canton coach Anthony Fallon. “The guys are finding their way into different positions. Sometimes you give up some yards and then you can buckle down when you figure it out.”
Canton had good field position to start its opening drive and took advantage, going 59 yards in 10 plays to jump in front. The Bulldogs had good balance, with Colin Albert (15 carries, 59 yards), Jack Albert (nine carries, 65 yards), and quarterback Robert Botelho all getting positive yards on the ground.
After a false start on fourth and two back the Bulldogs up to the Sharon 33, Botelho (7-for-13, 77 yards) rolled out to his left and hit Vincent O’Brien in stride down the near sideline for the touchdown. It was Botelho’s first career touchdown pass.
The Bulldogs would started their third possession from their own 42 and again made the good field position count for points. Botelho found Jack Albert for a 23-yard gain down to the Eagles 26. Bahsor Mahn gained six on third and five down to the 15-yard-line, but the drive stalled there. Will Keefe made sure Canton didn’t leave empty-handed, kicking a 33-yard field goal.
Sharon needed a spark and found some life offensively on the ensuing possession. Kiran Chandrasekaran (11-for-20, 174 yards and 14 carries for 55 yards) rushed for 29 yards on a keeper to get the ball into Canton territory. On first down from the 20, Chandrasekaran fired a strike on the far sideline to PJ McManus. The extra point was blocked, but the Eagles cut the lead to 10-6.
It was Canton’s turn to answer and the Bulldogs needed only three plays to get back in front by double digits. Andrew Butler’s kickoff return out to the 44-yard-line set up the drive. Jack Albert took a toss for 11 yards to the left. Butler went around the right side for 13. Fallon called for a little trickery, as Albert took the toss to the left, pulled up, and lofted a perfect pass to Butler for a 32-yard score.
“A little jet pass from Mr. Albert,” said Fallon. “We ran that in practice and this afternoon I think he was all geared up and wanted to run it and we thought it was good time to do it. Senior night, you want the win but you also want them smiling and having fun and that was part of the fun tonight.”
The visitors had more than two minutes left in the half and tried for an instant response. A 40-yard pass to Owen Conway got them into Canton territory and a personal foul call added 15 more yards down to the 19. Carson Campbell made a big play to drop Ike Ogbannanze for a five-yard loss, on third down Ryan Richards sacked Chandrasekaran, and the Bulldogs forced a turnover on downs.
“Kiran had a great game,” said Sharon coach Dave Morse. “He helps us with both the run and the pass. The receivers did a great job with a couple of big catches. We’re moving it but then we’ve got to finish it off. It’s been the story of the last couple of years and the next three weeks we’ve got to figure out how to finish.”
Late in the third quarter, Canton went for it on fourth and three at the Sharon 41, but Albert was stripped of the ball and Jack Murphy jumped on the fumble for the Eagles. Nico Marrero picked up nine yards to convert a third and five and Chandrasekaran hit Ogbannanze for 13 on a fourth and six.
Sharon got as far as the Canton 24 but a Campbell sack on fourth down put an end to the drive.
“We really killed ourselves with penalties and field position, so that was the difficult part of moving the ball in the second half,” Fallon explained. “They had couple of sustained rives where we didn’t lock it down until they got deep into our territory.”
After a three-and-out by the Bulldogs, Sharon was on the move again. Chandrasekaran and McManus (four catches, 53 yards) combined for 24 to the Bulldogs 40 and then Conway made a grab down to the 27. A holding call backed the Eagles up but gains of seven, six, and eight yards brought up fourth and one from the 18. Chandrasekaran’s keeper was stuffed for a loss of one.
Penalties were an issue for the Bulldogs throughout the second half and a holding call pushed Canton back to its own eight. On third and 17, Butler came up with a huge play that effectively sealed the win, He took a sweep to the right, cut inside and broke a 22-yard run for a critical first down.
“He did a great job there,” Fallon said of Butler’s run. “He hit the seam really nice and covered up the ball when he had contact too.”
Morse added, “We had some guys up front, all did a great job and the linebackers were getting more aggressive. Defensively, I think we saw the progression we wanted. A couple mistakes and they bit us for it but I was very, very happy with the effort to the football.”
SHARON, Mass. – When the final serve hit the net and dropped to the court, the Sharon players started to celebrate, clapped a little, and then calmly walked over to the sidelines. Maybe they didn’t realize just how rare it was for the Eagles to earn a win against Canton.
Sharon took control in the opening set and never let go, sweeping Monday night’s match 25-13, 25-19, 25-17 to stay unbeaten this season. It was the first win for the Eagles against the Bulldogs, who have won 13 of the last 14 league titles, since at least 2002. (Records aren’t definite for the 2002 season, but Sharon beat Canton at least once in 2001, the Bulldogs’ first season as a varsity program.)
Not only did the Eagles win, but they were the better team in all facets of the game. Senior hitter Sara Fandel gave Sharon a constant outlet on the outside and, even without Sara’s twin sister Leah, the Eagles dominated play at the net. Brynne Aidlin-Pearlman added a second hitter and setters Yvette Nau and Sonya Gray consistently delivered the ball to the right spots.
“If it was only Sara, then I’d be like, okay we have this one amazing player, but everybody is just falling in,” said Sharon coach Andrea Lovett. “I don’t know if she’s bringing them up to her level? Brynne is super strong with what she’s doing. It’s just so exciting to see it.”
The Eagles got off to a quick start, leading 4-1 in the opening set, but Canton rallied with a pair of Angie Elias kills to grab an 8-7 lead and it looked like usual service was restored. Sharon got an ace from Savannah Gray and a point from Nau to restore the lead and then a pair of kills by Fandel, the second after a long rally, put Sharon ahead 13-10.
After Canton had tied the set at 9-9, Sharon won 16 of the next 20 points to take a lead in the match. Fandel had six kills and an ace and Erin Schustek added a point during the run. The Bulldogs had no response.
“[Fandel] was amazing and we just didn’t have an answer,” admitted Canton coach Pat Cawley. “We’re still trying to figure ourselves out after losing our outside hitters and they brought it to us. Volleyball is all about passing and we couldn’t pass the ball tonight and it all broke down from there. They deserve all the credit, they put the pressure on us.”
In the second set, Sharon had an early lead, but tips by Sydney Gallery and Liz Bickett put Canton up 9-8. Elias and Bickett followed with kills, sandwiched around a big hit by Aidlin-Pearlman to make it 12-9. That would be the largest lead for Canton in any set in the match.
Sharon stormed back with eight straight points before a bump by Nikki Desjardins dropped in for a point. The Eagles never trailed again in the match. Fandel smashed a cross-court kill and Schustek served an ace to make it 23-14. Elias had back-to-back kills but the Eagles never lost their composure and Aidlin-Pearlman smashed a kill down the line to seal the set.
“It’s a ton of confidence,” Lovett said about the impact of having strong hitters on the outside. “Between Sara and Brynne and Leah when she gets back, it’s the same story. They know, I can play full speed because if I make a mistake then I have five people who can cover for me. They know that and it makes them really good.”
The Bulldogs were hoping to regroup and build some momentum in the third set, but the Eagles never let off the gas. Sharon won the first seven points of the third and Canton wasn’t able to get any closer than five points in what turned out to be the final set.
Fandel was again the spark with six kills in the third, but it was an all-around effort that kept the Eagles in front. Libero Emily Rubenstein, Nau, and Gray were all excellent defensively and Aidlin-Pearlman was able to defend and score from the net or the back line.
“That’s normally our weakness,” Lovett said, “but their serve-receive was excellent tonight. I tell them all the time, that makes all the difference. You can’t do any of this without a good serve-receive.”
Gray stepped up with a big point to make it 19-10 and Nau seemed to shock ever herself with a big block that made it 23-15.
Canton tried to hang around, but struggled to get the ball to Bickett in the middle or Elias on the outside. Anna Verille had a kill and Jackie Morrissey had a bump drop in front of the Sharon defense for a point at 21-15 but the Bulldogs never looked like getting back into it.
“We couldn’t block them, we couldn’t dig them,” said Cawley. “They deserve all the credit in the world. I thought Angie played great the whole match but other than that we got in a hole early and we don’t have the confidence [to come back].”
After the win, Sharon (3-0) is now tied with Oliver Ames atop the Davenport division and Lovett is sure that her team will be ready to go on Wednesday when the Eagles visit Canton (2-1) for the rematch.
“This group of kids, especially our seniors, are really centered on volleyball,” Lovett explained, “and I think that I would normally be like, oh god we’re probably going to come back and do terrible on Wednesday because we’re over-confident, but I don’t think they’re that type of kids. They know that it can change at any minute, so let’s get out there.”
STOUGHTON, Mass. – On Monday evening, the Stoughton boys basketball team went into Sharon, controlled the tempo, and put up its best offensive performance of the season in a comfortable win over the Eagles.
On Tuesday night, the Black Knights did it again.
From senior Colby Andrews’ first basket just 10 seconds into the contest up until sophomore Rayan Sablon’s three-pointer in the final minute, Stoughton had its foot on the gas from start to finish to earn a 74-56 win over the visiting Eagles.
It marked Stoughton’s best offensive output of the season and the most points scored by any Davenport division team so far this season.
“That’s the pace we want, we want to pick it up and we want to get shots up,” said first-year Stoughton head coach Evan Taylor. “I think it’s just been about getting more comfortable with the offense, just being together more as a team. We’re playing together as a team more, everyone is touching the ball and getting more involved.
“We’ve really started to pick up the pace a lot more, which is the tempo we want to play at. Obviously, it helps when shots start falling that weren’t following to start the season. We’ve always had the confidence in the shots, now we’re starting to see them fall.”
The Black Knights were coming off a 72-point performance just 24 hours earlier on the road at Sharon. They followed a similar blueprint on their home court. Stoughton’s offense was off and running from the beginning, laughing up 23 field goal attempts — with seven makes — over the first eight minutes with just one turnover.
That resulted in a 16-13 lead for the hosts, which could have been more if not for a terrific individual effort from Sharon sophomore Matt Baur (18 points, five rebounds), who hit five of the Eagles’ six shots from the floor and had 11 points to keep the visitors close.
Christian Georges converted a putback attempt to push Stoughton’s lead to eight just over two minutes into the second but the Eagles continued to keep up with the Black Knights’ torrid pace. Sam Cohen hit a jumper, Owen Conway drove to the basket for two, and Baur drained a triple. Kiran Chandrasekaran sank a pair of free throws to get the visitors within four, 28-24, with three minutes to go in the first half.
That’s when Stoughton showed just how quickly and deadly its offense can be when it gets going. Junior Connor Andrews drained a three after an offensive rebound and pass from junior KC Ugwuakazi (17 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks). Andrews came up with a turnover on the ensuing inbounds and found senior Jake Queeney (15 points) for a triple, and after two straight Eagles’ turnovers, Ugwuakazi cleaned up his own miss.
Stoughton continued to crash the offensive glass (23 offensive rebounds), this time Cashmere Mathurin grabbed a board and put it back up for two to complete a 10-0 run in less than two minutes.
Even though Sharon broke the run out of a timeout when Ryan Zunenshine converted an offensive rebound into two points, the Black Knights added seven more points over the final minute. Brett Pendenza made a pair of free throws, Sablon drained a three, and Mathurin beat the buzzer with a hard banked-in shot to give Stoughton a 45-28 halftime lead.
“That’s not the pace we want to play at,” said Sharon head coach Andrew Ferguson, his side committing 10 of its 14 turnovers in the opening half. “The same thing happened last night. They sped us up, they played at the pace they wanted to and that’s a credit to them. We stressed trying to play slower, execute our offense, run our screens, slips, back doors, and we didn’t do it. It was too much one on one, too much first pass shot. It’s disappointing because we had been playing well. We needed to slow it down in this game but we couldn’t play at the pace we wanted.
“We let our bad defensive possessions affect our offense, and we let our bad offensive possessions affect our defensive possessions, it’s a snowball. We weren’t communicating enough defensively, we were helping off the wrong spots, and then we were just selfish on offense.”
A switch to a zone defense by the Eagles helped some but was merely a speed bump for the Black Knights. Brady Conlin knocked down a three against the zone early, and after Stoughton’s longest scoreless stretch of the game of nearly three minutes, Pendenza and Queeney delivered back-to-back triples to help Stoughton push its lead to 54-35 just past the midway point of the third.
Queeney’s isolation step-back triple extended Stoughton’s advantage to 59-37 with two minutes to go in the third but Sharon made a final push to get back into it. Matt Baskin (nine points, 10 rebounds) went coast-to-coast for two and then sank a triple after a Stoughton turnover. Zunenshine used a crafty finish for two and Ryan Baker’s contested heave from deep three-point territory beat the buzzer as the Eagles got back into the game, down 59-47 going into the fourth.
Zunenshine opened with two more to make it a 10-point game but that would be the closest the Eagles would get the rest of the way. Ugwuakazi scored four straight points, had a big block on the defensive end, and Queeney converted another offensive rebound into points as Stoughton restored a comfortable lead at 65-49.
“In the beginning of the season, they’re probably going the other way,” Taylor said of the close game situations in the second and fourth quarters. “There’s been some mental growth. It’s been a growing season for all of them, and with just two returners back from last year, we knew it would be. Everybody is getting experience now, and everyone is learning together. We’ve been watching film, just trying to get better as a team each day.”
Stoughton (4-5 Davenport, 4-5 overall) travels to Mansfield on Thursday for its first of three straight games against Kelley-Rex opponents. Sharon (3-4, 3-5) returns home on Friday night against rival Oliver Ames.